Photos: Energy crunch dims Christmas holiday glimmer in Europe

From Paris to London, officials in cities across Europe are limiting hours of holiday illumination, and many have switched to more energy-efficient LED lights or renewable energy sources as high energy prices bite consumers in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

With the Christmas holidays around the corner, officials face the dilemma of how to conserve energy in solidarity with citizens squeezed by higher utility bills and inflation, while protecting public coffers.

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 on stationary bikes will provide power to the town’s Christmas tree by fueling batteries with kinetic energy. Anyone can hop on, and the faster they pedal, the brighter the lights. No holiday lighting will be put up elsewhere in town to raise awareness about energy conservation, officials said.

Also in Italy, officials in the northern city of Verona are discussing limiting lighting to just a few key shopping streets and using the savings to help needy families.

“In Verona, the atmosphere is there anyway,” said Giancarlo Peschiera, whose shop selling fur coats overlooks Verona’s Piazza Bra, where officials on Saturday lit a huge shooting star arching from the Roman-era Arena amphitheatre into the square.

The holiday will shine brightly in Germany, where the year-end season is a major boost to retailers and restaurants. Emergency cutbacks announced this fall specifically exempted religious lighting, “in particular Christmas,” even as environmental activists called for restraint.

“Many yards look like something out of an American Christmas film,” grumbled Environmental Action Germany.

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

Despite the central government urging cities to reduce illuminations, this year’s installation is made up of 11 million LED lights across 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 remain on for one 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.

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