No ice rinks, fewer lights: Christmas markets across Europe shrink as energy costs soar | Cost of living crisis
European Christmas markets and illuminations are dwindling due to the energy crisis and a worsening climate – ditching seasonal ice rinks for roller skating and turning the lights on for less time.
When the traditional end-of-year markets and Christmas illuminations are launched in France and Germany this week, in many cities like Paris, they will pass dark hours earlier than usual.
But local politicians said they still needed to deliver some sort of festive spirit to lift what they called the gloomy mood amid Ukraine’s war and rising cost of living.
The city of Tours, in western France, will replace its famous Christmas outdoor ice rink with roller skating. Keeping the rink cold enough had cost its private operator €15,000 in electricity bills in 2020, and €7,500 last year after it was downsized.
“It seemed a bit absurd to have an outdoor ice rink when the temperature here at Christmas has been 10-15°C for several years,” said Martin Cohen, deputy mayor in charge of energy and the environment. “It doesn’t seem to make sense to keep ice cream, no matter the cost, just to maintain a Christmas feeling.”
He said that with global warming, cities in France “must accept that Christmas is no longer the image of snow, ice and big Christmas trees. We will maintain what we can because we need the magic and festive side of Christmas, but certain elements must evolve.
The city was still sourcing locally for its sprawling Christmas tree, but had noticed that pines weren’t growing as well in the area anymore due to rising temperatures and droughts.
Mulhouse, in eastern France, cited the French government’s directive to reduce energy consumption to avoid blackouts this winter. His Christmas tree was illuminated every day from 10 a.m. “to create an atmosphere”. From now on, the city’s Christmas tree and lights will be lit at 5 p.m. as a daily “event”. Reducing the number and timing of lights will consume 35% less energy.
“It is a civic duty for local authorities to guarantee a special moment at Christmas, but we have made adjustments,” said Philippe Trimaille, deputy mayor in charge of trade.
Strasbourg, known as France’s ‘Christmas capital’, is home to the country’s largest Christmas market, which was hit by a gun attack in 2018 and then canceled in 2020 due to Covid. All lights are energy efficient LEDs, the number has been reduced this year, and the illuminations will vary so that not all the lights come on at the same time. Plastic-free reusable cups are tested for mulled wine.
“People want the magic of Christmas, so we’re looking for a responsible balance,” said Guillaume Libsig, the city’s deputy mayor in charge of events.
German cities such as Regensburg, Munich and Bamberg – where Christmas markets attract tourists – have shortened daily lighting hours. Bremen’s Christmas lights season, which usually runs from the end of October to the end of February, will run from November 20 to January 31 this year. In Düsseldorf, the lights will burn for five hours a day instead of 15.
Christmas market traders have been urged to rethink the lighting, with fewer illuminated icicles or fairy lights and more LED lanterns.
Many German towns are avoiding ice rinks altogether: Bad Neuenahr, hit hard by summer 2021 floods, will have its first Christmas market since the disaster, introducing a roller skating rink instead.
“There has been a long debate in Germany about whether Christmas markets should take place this year,” said Frank Hakelberg of the German fairground workers’ association. “In the end, we won because we were able to show that the electricity consumption per capita on a Christmas market is lower than if people stayed at home. It may be a bit of a cheeky thesis, but in a way, Christmas markets are energy savers.
He said most German Christmas markets had been lit for years with LED lights, which require around 90% less electricity than conventional incandescent bulbs. Still, Hakelberg said many markets this year will only turn on their lights after dark, rather than when the markets open in the afternoon. Some, like the Christmas market in the central town of Fulda, will remain closed every Monday and only open at noon, later than in previous years.