How a word nobody uses is causing Christmas confusion in Spain

Alex Dunham
Alex Dunham - [email protected]
How a word nobody uses is causing Christmas confusion in Spain
Photo: Gift Pundits/Pixabay

Be honest, had you ever used (or heard of) the Spanish word “allegado”?


What’s all the drama about the word “allegado” then?

If you’ve been following the Spanish news recently, you’ll know that central and regional governments have been busy rolling out and tweaking their Christmas Covid plans.

The measures and restrictions are logically aimed at halting the rise of infections at a time when most Spaniards will be looking to spend time with family and loved ones.

And here’s where the word “allegado” comes in.

"Allegado" is a slightly old-fashioned word to refer to someone who’s close to you, be it a next of kin, a family member, a friend, or someone who you have a close relationship with or of trust.

It’s a very general term to refer to someone in ‘your circle’ – without an exact translation in English as far as we know– but it’s a word that’s even subject to interpretation among ordinary Spaniards and politicians.

So, after Spain’s national government announced recently that people would be allowed to cross regional borders to visit family or ‘allegados', many were left asking ‘Where are they drawing the line’?

Andalusia's regional president Juanma Moreno reacted by saying that the word “allegados” was “too ambiguous” and that it could lead to serious consequences in the spread of the virus, adding that his government would avoid the term in their final Christmas measures bulletin.


So, what did Spain’s government actually mean by “allegado”?

Health minister Salvador Illa had initially said that “allegado” refers to people who have a special emotional bond with one another but were not family.

However, his Andalusian counterpart Minister of Health and Families Jesús Aguirre disagreed with him, saying “we do not share the same concept of ‘allegados' as Minister Illa" and “we will only approve family reunification".

The truth is that “allegado” isn’t a word Spaniards use much if at all in daily conversation, perhaps because it’s so unspecific. 

The Spanish papers are currently full of opinion pieces and explainers on the word “allegado” and what it will mean for their Christmas plans. 

Could they have used a better word or explanation such as “amigos íntimos” or “amigos cercanos” (close friends)?

Spain’s chief epidemiologist Fernando Simón also gave his two cents on the matter when stating "we must look for terms that include all the situations and social relations that exist in Spain".


"If it’s a person who has been having dinner with their neighbour for 20 years, to my understanding they should be able to continue doing that at Christmas, just as a person can have dinner with another cousin," Simón argued.

Health Minister Illa has since gone on to explain again on radio what his department understands by “allegado”: "We’ve gone through difficult times and it would be understandable if there’s someone who you have a close family-like bond with and you don’t want them to spend Christmas alone.

“They’re not family in the conventional sense but it’s someone you have a very close relationship with and you want to spend time with them.

“This will be allowed, we don’t want anyone to be alone this Christmas even if we need people to travel as little as possible and see as few people as possible.”

This may not clarify all doubts about the word “allegado” - which in many cases will be up to individual regions to interpret and enforce.

It does however say something about the Spanish psyche.

Spaniards are first and foremost a social bunch whose circles of friendships and relationships extend further than family bonds.

Whether it’s the old lady that sells them lottery tickets, the barman that serves them their morning coffee, or the neighbours that look after their dog for them, the need to chat and spend time with others is ingrained in their character.

No wonder they can’t find the right words.  


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