Sober or bright? Europe is facing holidays during the energy crisis

VERONA – During the opening weekend, the Verona Christmas market was packed with revelers sipping mulled wine and buying Christmas decorations. But wooden market stalls aside, the Italian city still hasn’t decked out its granite-clad pedestrian streets with twinkling Christmas lights as officials debate how bright the season should be during this time an energy crisis.

In cities across Europe, officials are grappling with a choice as Energy prices have risen through Russia’s War in Ukraine: Dim the Christmas lights to send a message of energy saving and solidarity with citizens squeezed by higher utility bills and inflation, while the public coffers are spared. or keep the lights on in a message of defiance after two years of a pandemic-hit holiday season, lighting up cities with the holiday cheer retailers hope will lighten people’s wallets.

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

Less lights twinkle from the central tree at the famous Strasbourg Christmas market which attracts 2 million people each year as the French city aims to reduce public energy consumption by 10% this year.

From Paris to London, city officials are limiting holiday lighting hours, and many have switched to more energy-efficient LED lights or renewable energy sources. London’s Oxford Street shopping district hopes to cut energy use by two-thirds by limiting its lights to 3pm to 11pm and installing LED bulbs.

“Environmentally speaking, it’s the only real solution,” said Parisian Marie Breguet, 26, as she strolled down the Champs-Elysees, which is lit only until 11:45 p.m. instead of 2 a.m. like at Christmas. “The war and energy pressure is a reality. No one will get hurt with a little less illumination this year.”

It’s the lights along Budapest’s Andrassy Avenue, often referred to as Hungary’s Champs-Elysées, which officials say shouldn’t be swamped more than 2 kilometers (1.5 miles) with white lights like in years past. The lighting is also reduced on city landmarks, including bridges over the Danube.

“Saving decorative lighting is about the fact that we live in times when we need every drop of energy,” said Budapest Deputy Mayor Ambrus Kiss.

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

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

Festive lights, which this year consist of LEDs, will also be dimmed from 1am to 6am in the old town of Brasov in central Romania and turned off elsewhere, officials said.

The crisis, largely fueled by Russia blocks most of the natural gas going to Europe, brings about innovations. In the Italian mountain town of Borno, in Lombardy, cyclists will power the town’s Christmas tree by charging batteries with kinetic energy. Anyone can climb, and the faster they pedal, the brighter the lights get. Elsewhere in the city, no holiday lights will be put up to raise awareness about energy conservation, officials said.

In Italy, many cities traditionally light Christmas trees in public squares on December 8, the Feast of the Assumption, leaving time to make plans for festive street exhibitions. Officials in the northern city of Verona are discussing limiting lighting to just a few key shopping streets and capitalizing on the savings help needy families.

“In Verona, the atmosphere is there anyway,” said Giancarlo Peschiera, whose shop that sells fur coats overlooks Verona’s Piazza Bra, where officials on Saturday will light a giant shooting star that arches into the square from the Roman Arena amphitheater .

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

“We can do without the light. There are the Christmas stalls and the shop windows are festively decorated,” said Peschiera.

After two Christmas celebrations amid COVID-19 restrictions, some are calling ‘bah humbug’ to conservation efforts.

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

The vacation will shine brightly in Germany, where the year-end season is a big boost for retailers and restaurants. Emergency cuts announced this fall explicitly exempted religious lighting, “particularly Christmas,” even as environmental activists called for restraint.

“Many courtyards look like something out of an American Christmas movie,” said Umweltaktion Deutschland.

In Spain, the north-western port city of Vigo is not letting the energy crisis deter it from its tradition of putting on the country’s most extravagant Christmas lights. Ahead of other cities, Vigo turned on the light show on November 19, which 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. As a small contribution to saving energy, they stay on for an hour less each day.

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 economic return is vital for both commerce and business in Vigo. The hotels in the city and the surrounding area were fully booked when the lighting started and are expected to be almost 100% occupied every week.

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

The Market Exhibitors Association said going to the Christmas market with family uses less energy than staying at home. A family of four spending an hour cooking dinner on an electric stove, streaming a two-hour movie, operating a video console and lighting the children’s bedrooms would use 0.711 kilowatt-hours per person, versus 0.1 to 0.2 kilowatt-hours per person strolling through a Christmas market.

“Those who stay at home don’t sit in the corner in the dark,” says Frank Hakelberg, Managing Director of the German Showmen’s Association. “The couch potatoes consume more energy than at the Christmas market.”

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Associated Press reporter Thomas Adamson in Paris; David McHugh in Frankfurt, Germany; Ciaran Gilles in Madrid; Justin Spike in Budapest; Giovanna Dell’Orto in Granada, Spain; Courtney Bonnell in London; and Stephen McGrath in Brasov, Romania.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/business/2022/11/26/sober-or-bright-europe-faces-holidays-during-energy-crunch/ Sober or bright? Europe is facing holidays during the energy crisis

Sarah Y. Kim

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