Sober or bright? Europe facing holidays during the energy crisis

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VERONA, Italy (AP) — Early-season revelers sipping mulled wine and shopping for holiday decorations packed the Verona Christmas Market for its inaugural weekend. But beyond the wooden market stalls, the Italian city has yet to decorate its granite-clad pedestrian streets with twinkling Christmas lights as officials debate the brightness of the season during an energy crisis.

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

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« If they take the lights down, might as well 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 people. business.

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

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

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« Ecologically speaking, it’s the only real solution, » said Parisian Marie Breguet, 26, as she strolled down the Champs-Elysées, which is only lit until 11:45 p.m., instead of 2 a.m. like the Christmases past. “War and energy shortage are real. No one will be hurt with a little less illumination this year.

Lights go out along Budapest’s Andrassy Avenue, often referred to as Hungary’s Champs-Élysées, which authorities ruled would be bathed in no more than 2 kilometers (1.5 miles) of white lights Like in the past. Lighting is also reduced on city landmarks, including bridges over the Danube.

“Saving on decorative lighting is because we live in a time when we need every drop of energy,” said Budapest Deputy Mayor Ambrus Kiss.

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He doesn’t think saving on lighting will deter tourists from coming to the town, which hosts two Christmas markets that attract 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 old city center of Brasov in central Romania, and turned off elsewhere, officials said.

The crisis, largely spurred by Russia cutting off most natural gas to Europe, is sparking 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 it, and the faster they pedal, the brighter the lights. No holiday lighting will be installed elsewhere in the city to raise awareness of energy conservation, officials said.

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In Italy, many cities traditionally light Christmas trees in public squares on December 8, the day of the Assumption, which still leaves time to develop plans for festive displays in the streets. City officials in Verona, in the north of the country, plan to limit lighting to a few key shopping streets and use the savings to help families in need.

« In Verona, the mood is there anyway, » said Giancarlo Peschiera, whose shop selling fur coats overlooks Verona’s Piazza Bra, where officials will light a huge shooting star on Saturday strolling from the Arena amphitheater. from Roman times in the square.

The city will also install a Christmas tree in the main square and a holiday pastry chef has erected festooned trees of light in three other locations.

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

After two Christmases under COVID-19 restrictions, some are calling « bah humbug » on conservation efforts.

« It’s not Christmas all year round, » said Parisian Alice Betout, 39. « Why can’t we just enjoy the holiday season as usual, and save (energy) the rest of the year? »

The holidays will shine brightly in Germany, where the year-end season is a major boost for retailers and restaurants. Emergency cuts announced this fall specifically exempted religious lighting, « particularly Christmas », even as environmental campaigners called for restraint.

« Many building sites look like something out of an American Christmas movie, » grumbled Environmental Action Germany.

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

Although the central government is urging cities to reduce illuminations, this year’s installation is made up 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 every day.

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

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Caballero says the economic return is vital, both for trade and for businesses in Vigo. Hotels in and around town were full for the lighting launch and are expected to be close to 100% each week.

German Christmas markets have some crunched numbers that could make any lighting Grinch’s heart grow at least three sizes.

The association of market exhibitors said that a visit to the Christmas market with the family 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, running 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 to stroll through a Christmas market.

« If people stay at home, they don’t just sit in the corner in the dark, » said Frank Hakelberg, managing director of the German Fairground Association. « Couch potatoes use more energy than when they are at a Christmas market. »

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Associated Press reporters 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, contributed.

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