Sober or brilliant? Europe faces holidays during the energy crisis

Early season revelers drink mulled wine and shop Christmas decorations packed the Verona Christmas market on its opening weekend. But beyond the wooden market stalls, the Italian city has yet to deck its granite-clad pedestrian streets with twinkling Christmas lights as officials debate just how bright the season is during an energy crisis.

In cities across Europe, officials are wrestling with an election as energy prices have risen due to Russia’s war in Ukraine: dim christmas lighting to send a message of energy conservation and solidarity with citizens squeezed by higher utility bills and inflation, while protecting public coffers. Or let the lights shine on a message of defiance after two years of a suppressed pandemic. Christmas seasonslighting up cities with holiday cheer that retailers hope will loosen the strings in people’s purses.

“If they take out the lights, they better turn off Christmas,” said Estrella Puerto, who sells traditional Spanish mantillas, or women’s veils, in a small shop in Granada, Spain, and says the Christmas decorations attract business.

An illuminated Ferris wheel is reflected on wet pavement at a Christmas fair that opened ahead of the Christmas season in Bucharest, Romania. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru, File)

Fewer lights shine on the central tree of Strasbourg’s famous Christmas market, which attracts 2 million people each year, as the French city seeks to cut public energy consumption by 10% this year.

From Paris to London, city officials are limiting Christmas lighting hours and many have switched to more energy-efficient lights. Led lights o Renewable energy sources. London’s Oxford Street shopping district hopes to cut energy consumption by two-thirds by limiting its lights to 3:00pm to 11:00pm and installing LED bulbs.

“Ecologically speaking, it’s the only real solution,” said Marie Breguet, 26, a Paris resident, as she strolled along the Champs-Elysees, which are lit only until 11:45 p.m., instead of 2 a.m. like at Christmas. past. “War and energy contraction is a reality. No one will get hurt with a little less illuminations this year.”

Lights go out along Budapest’s Andrassy Avenue, often known as Hungary’s Champs-Elysees, which authorities decided would not be bathed in more than 2 kilometers (1.5 miles) of white lights as in previous years . Lighting is also being cut at city landmarks, including bridges over the Danube river.

“Saving on decorative lighting has to do with the fact that we are living in times when we need every drop of energy,” said Budapest Deputy Mayor Ambrus Kiss.

Spectators gather to attend the lighting ceremony for the Champs Elysee avenue for the Christmas season, in Paris. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly, File)

He doesn’t think saving on lighting will deter tourists from coming to the city, which has two Christmas markets that draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

“I think it’s an overblown debate,” he said.

The festive lights, made up of LEDs this year, will also be dimmed from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. in the center of the old city of Brasov, in central Romania, and turned off elsewhere, authorities said.

Visitors stroll through the Strasbourg Christmas Market, one of the largest and oldest Christmas markets in Europe. Strasbourg, eastern France. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias, file)

The crisis, triggered in large part by Russia cutting off most natural gas in Europe, is spawning innovation. In the Italian mountain town of Borno, in Lombardy, cyclists will power the town’s Christmas tree by powering batteries with kinetic energy. Anyone can ride, and the faster they pedal, the brighter the lights. Christmas lights will not be installed anywhere else in the city to raise awareness about energy conservation, officials said.

In Italy, many cities traditionally light Christmas trees in public squares on December 8, the Assumption holiday, still allowing time to devise plans for festive street displays. Officials in the northern city of Verona are discussing limiting lighting to just a few key commercial streets and using the savings to help families in need.

Lights illuminate the traditional Christmas market with a merry-go-round in Frankfurt, Germany. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

“In Verona, the atmosphere is there anyway,” said Giancarlo Peschiera, whose fur coat shop overlooks Verona’s Piazza Bra, where officials will light a huge shooting star on Saturday that arcs from the Arena de Verona amphitheater. Roman times towards the square.

The city will also put up a Christmas tree in the main square and a Christmas cake maker has erected trees festooned with lights in three other locations.

“We can do without the lights. There are the Christmas stalls and the shop windows are decorated for the holidays”, said Peschiera.

After two Christmases under COVID-19 restrictions, some are calling conservation efforts “bah humbug.”

“It’s not Christmas all year,” said Alice Betout, 39, of Paris. “Why can’t we just enjoy the festive season as usual and save (energy) the rest of the year?”

Visitors stroll through the Strasbourg Christmas Market, one of the largest and oldest Christmas markets in Europe. Strasbourg, eastern France. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias, file)

The holiday will shine brightly in Germany, where the holiday season is a big boost for retailers and restaurants. Emergency cutbacks announced this fall specifically excluded religious lighting, “particularly Christmas lighting,” even as environmental activists called for restraint.

“Many gardens look like something out of an American Christmas movie,” Environmental Action Germany complained.

In Spain, the northwestern port city of Vigo is not letting the energy crisis get in the way of its tradition of hosting the country’s most extravagant Christmas light display. Ahead of other cities, Vigo turned on the light show on November 19 in what has become a major tourist attraction.

Despite the central government urging cities to reduce lighting, this year’s installation consists of 11 million LED lights in more than 400 streets, 30 more than last year and far more than any other Spanish city. In a small contribution to energy savings, they will stay on one hour less each day.

Christmas lights are displayed on Regent Street in London. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

The lights are Mayor Abel Caballero’s pet project. “If we didn’t celebrate Christmas, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin would win,” he said.

Caballero says that the economic return is vital, both for commerce and for the businesses of Vigo. Hotels in and around the city were fully booked for the lighting launch and are expected to be close to 100% every week.

Visitors stand in front of the illuminated Christmas tree at the Winter Wonder and Christmas Market on the Grand Place in Brussels, Belgium. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys, File)

Germany’s Christmas markets have slashed numbers that could make any Grinch heart lighting grow at least three sizes.

The market’s exhibitors’ association said a family visit to the Christmas market consumes less energy than staying at home. A family of four spending an hour cooking dinner on an electric stove, streaming a two-hour movie, using a game console, and lighting the children’s rooms would use 0.711 kilowatt-hours per person versus 0.1 to 0, 2 kilowatt-hours per person. to walk through a Christmas market.

“If people stay at home, don’t sit in a corner in the dark,” said Frank Hakelberg, CEO of the German Spectator Association. “Couch couch potatoes use more energy than when they’re at a Christmas market.”

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