CORONAVIRUS

Who are my ‘allegados’? Spaniards puzzled about allowed Christmas visits

Citizens are told they may only cross regional borders to see a very close circle of people, but are left wondering who qualifies

A Spanish family eating grapes at midnight on New Year's Eve.
A Spanish family eating grapes at midnight on New Year's Eve.SANTI BURGOS

Last Wednesday, a meeting of Spanish central and regional health authorities produced a document with rules for safely celebrating the Christmas holidays in a country fighting a second wave of the coronavirus.

One of the main measures in the plan calls for sealing regional borders between December 23 and January 6, effectively stopping people from traveling during that period except if they are going to visit relatives or allegados.

This latter word has raised many questions about who, exactly, may get together for the holidays. While the term is known to Spaniards – it loosely means those with close ties to oneself – it is still vague enough that Google searches for “definition allegados” and “what are allegados” have soared. Hundreds of Twitter users have asked the same question.

Health Minister Salvador Illa.
Health Minister Salvador Illa. Javier Etxezarreta / EFE

They were not the only ones. On Friday, authorities in the regional government of Andalusia said they will allow family members to get together, but not “friends or allegados,” at least not on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve. “Many of us [regional department heads] were not understanding the term, it is ambiguous and disconcerting,” said the Andalusian health chief, Jesús Aguirre. “There will be other Christmas seasons, and we can wait a little until a vaccine gets here.”

Asked on Wednesday what was meant by allegados, Health Minister Salvador Illa replied that it includes people who share “strong bonds of affection,” and urged citizens to use their sense of civic duty to decide who to gather with for Christmas celebrations.

According to the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), an allegado is a person who is close to oneself through ties of family, friendship or trust. Based on this, friends or sentimental partners without a formal union could be viewed as allegados.

A 2015 law on traffic accidents includes the term, describing allegados as “individuals who cohabited with the victim for at least five years before the latter’s death and who were especially close to the same due to family ties or bonds of affection.”

Authorities are asking citizens to act responsibly to prevent a surge in coronavirus during the holiday season.
Authorities are asking citizens to act responsibly to prevent a surge in coronavirus during the holiday season. Olmo Calvo / EL PAÍS

But Olatz Alberdi, a partner at the law firm Aba Abogadas, says that this definition depends on each specific situation. “In a shared student apartment, for instance, the tenants are not considered to be allegados. But the new girlfriend of a minor’s father could be,” she explains.

For the Legalitas lawyer Carlota Zapata, the concept of allegado included in the Christmas plan has no precedent in existing legislation, and so, like the health minister, she thinks that it calls for social responsibility by citizens. “It’s also a matter of logic,” she adds. “In theory, you’re not going to meet up with strangers to celebrate Christmas.”

Zapata does not think that people will be asked to prove their relationship with their hosts if they are stopped on the way there at a road check. But ultimately, it will be up to the police officer conducting the check. This expert notes that anyone concerned about being stopped and questioned could always ask their host to give them a sworn statement along with proof of residence, to take along on their trip. There are online examples of how to write a sworn statement, which can be even done by hand or saved as a digital document on one’s cellphone.

“Even so, I would find it odd for a police officer to ask us to prove our relationship to the person we are visiting,” adds Zapata. And in a worst-case scenario where the police officer issues a fine for being unable to prove the relationship, “it is always possible to appeal the sanction, and very likely it would be canceled.”

Lola Pons, a professor of Spanish at Seville University and a contributor to the Verne section of EL PAÍS, says that the verb allegar comes from the Latin applicare and has been used from the very beginnings of the Spanish language itself. It is there in the 12th-century epic poem Cantar de Mio Cid, and in a 1611 dictionary, the Tesoro de la lengua by Sebastián de Covarrubias, who defined an allegado as someone who lived off a feudal lord, without being his serf.

A 1726-1739 edition of the RAE’s dictionary shows a plural form, allegados, who are defined as “relatives, partial friends or servants who are close to their masters.” In short, says Pons, the word has had several meanings through the centuries.

English version by Susana Urra.

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