With more than a month to go until Christmas, a controversy repeated every year about the need to dand illuminate the cities, a race that seems to have no end and that, after the 2020 hiatus caused by the pandemic, is being rethought upwards. Christmas lighting spending has skyrocketed in many Spanish cities, with the unique case of Valencia, which increased by almost 120%, while Barcelona increased it by 32%. But it is not only about evaluating the investment made, but also about putting other aspects of the Christmas scene on the table, in a valuation that has its pros and cons. On the one hand, psychological studies certify that the fact of seeing illuminated streets maintains a close relationship with the consumption carried out. In a time that is already conducive to shopping, the light that will invade cities in the coming days, and for a month and a half, works as a claim that merchants consider essential and that causes a euphoric effect among citizens.
Christmas, beyond the focus that each one has on the holidays, is closely related to lighting that, in recent years, has replaced traditional bulbs with LED lights, which use 80% less than incandescent ones. If it had simply been the case of changing one for the other, the savings would have been remarkable, but the opposite has happened: or a similar budget, which means, consequently, more lighting and more light pollution; or, as it happens now, more money invested and more lights. The case of Vigo is paradigmatic. With the help of Mayor Abel Caballero, he allocates 3.11 euros per inhabitant to Christmas decorations, well above the 1.29 in Barcelona or the 1.07 in Madrid. There are 11 million light bulbs, the highest figure on the planet, similar to the one in Madrid but concentrated in a much smaller space. With this it is achieved that the claim is no longer strictly commercial – to encourage purchases and encourage the public after a forced period of lethargy – but that it is the city itself that aspires, as its mayor proclaims, to become a “Planetary event.” Among the detractors, a criticism of excess; among the defenders, the figures that speak of the economic return on visits and tourist spending.
It is true that, strictly speaking, Christmas lighting, in general, represents a very small part of the overall cost of electricity and that, in some cases, such as in Barcelona, it is the merchants themselves who assume part of the cost, with municipal aid that this exceptionally, it is estimated at three-quarters of the budget. Even so, we are talking about a high amount –with repercussions of all kinds: aesthetic and ethical– from which a certain model of city and society can be debated, especially in times of crisis and energy poverty. You have to calibrate what message is transmitted, beyond the simple decoration. In Barcelona, the commitment to modernized ornaments and more in keeping with the idea of claiming the Catalan capital as a benchmark for design, collides with cases such as Madrid, which is more prone to grandiloquence.
Betting on lighting in the streets as a symbol of recovery and return to normalcy at times that are still critical in relation to the pandemic is perceived as an economic and social necessity. Rethinking excess is also an obligation of administrations in troubled times.