Lights out: How Christmas in Italy will be different this year

As the European energy crisis continues, some cities in Italy have chosen to save on electricity by downsizing regular Christmas displays, thus making this year’s festivities a little less flashy.

Christmas tree in Milan
Many Italian cities, including Milan, will have to downsize their Christmas decorations due to the European energy crisis. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

With less than a month to go until the Christmas holidays, many might be rejoicing at the prospect of finally seeing their cities lit up by dazzling Christmas displays.

But, as the European energy crisis shows no sign of abating and many cities across the boot keep struggling to square their accounts in the face of soaring bills, some residents may be disappointed to know that this year’s festive decorations might differ from the norm.

Milan, Italy’s economic capital, was one of the very first Italian cities to announce it would significantly reduce Christmas displays to save on energy.

READ ALSO: Lights off and home working: Milan’s new energy-saving plan for winter 

After reports emerged in early October that the city would end up spending a whopping €130 million on energy bills alone in 2022, Milan’s mayor, Giuseppe Sala, was quick to warn residents that Christmas decorations would be “restrained” and operate “for shorter periods of time”.

And, it wasn’t long before Sala made good on his promises. 

Earlier this month, the city’s authorities agreed on putting up decorations and light displays on December 7th (that is over two weeks after the usual date) and taking them down on January 6th instead of late January. 

Christmas lights in the streets of central Milan

Christmas lights in Milan will be switched on on December 7th, that is over two weeks after the usual switch-on date. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Also, while in previous years Milan’s city centre was illuminated overnight, this year’s Christmas lights will be switched on at 4pm and switched off at midnight. 

But, while Milan residents might be slightly dissatisfied with the new arrangements, they sure have little to complain about when compared to Rome residents. 

It’ll be a dark Christmas (literally and, perhaps, even figuratively) for most areas of the Eternal City and not merely because of the current energy crisis. 

READ ALSO: Energy crisis: The Italians reviving ‘nonna’s’ traditions to keep costs down

The city’s tender for this year’s Christmas lights contract received no bids before its deadline on October 27th, which means that, in many neighbourhoods, festive decorations will be largely left to the goodwill and financial means of the residents.

So while the popular Piazza di Spagna, Porta Pia and Via Alessandria will light up over the holiday season thanks to private funding, the San Giovanni and Tuscolano neighbourhoods and Via Cola di Rienzo are currently expected to remain au naturel.

Christmas light in a street in Rome

Many areas of the capital, Rome, will be without lights this year due to lack of funding. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Things will generally be better in Venice and Florence, where local authorities have recently chosen to maintain their usual arrangements, the only exception being the replacement of regular lights with energy-efficient, LED ones. 

So, while the lighting might be a little softer and displays might not be as remarkable as in previous years, both cities should be able to deal with late-December energy bills more comfortably than they would have had to do otherwise.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Italy has avoided a huge hike in gas prices – for now 

Having said that, not all Italian cities have decided to resize their Christmas offerings on the back of eye-watering electricity prices. 

Naples, which has long been known for the extravagance of its Christmas and New Year celebrations, has seemingly chosen to turn a blind eye to the energy crisis and will allocate as much as €1.5 million (that’s €150,000 to each one of the ten local municipalities) to this year’s displays.

Unsurprisingly, the comune’s decision has been drawing widespread criticism, with many local political figures pointing out that part, if not most, of the above-mentioned amount should have been spent elsewhere, perhaps in the form of a one-off ‘Christmas bonus’ for struggling households and businesses.

The available money should have been used to “turn off the crisis and light up people’s hearts”, city councillors Antonio Culiers and Francesco Flores said in a joint statement earlier this month.

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Row erupts over Rome’s ‘ugly’ solar-powered Christmas tree

Rome's Christmas tree was at the centre of controversy again this year, as critics attacked the city council's decision to install solar panels in historic Piazza Venezia.

Row erupts over Rome's 'ugly' solar-powered Christmas tree

Rome’s much-anticipated Christmas tree has arrived and its appearance has proved controversial once again this year. This time however, criticism was not over missing branches or lacklustre decorations but the installation of large photovoltaic panels at the tree’s base in Piazza Venezia, a Unesco world heritage site.

READ ALSO: Lights out: How Christmas in Italy will be different this year

There’s a lot of pressure on Rome authorities each December to produce a decent Christmas tree after the city became notorious for a string of festive flops, including the 2018 incarnation, nicknamed ‘Spezzacchio’ (‘Broken’) by residents due to its notable lack of branches.

Most famously, the 2017 Christmas tree erected at a cost of nearly €50,000 earned the nickname ‘Spelacchio’ (‘Baldy’), thanks to its threadbare appearance and uncanny resemblance to a toilet brush.

Spelacchio, whose balding branches made headlines all over the world, was the successor of another ill-fated fir dubbed the ‘Austerity Tree’, labelled the ugliest in the world in 2016.

The appearance of the 2022 tree hasn’t been criticised, but its visible power supply has: a row has erupted among local politicians over the decision to install two giant photovoltaic panels at its base to power the lights on the tree as well as the illuminations on nearby shopping street Via del Corso.

Prominent right-wing figures such as Vittorio Sgarbi, an outspoken art critic and culture ministry undersecretary in the current government, slammed the idea as being inspired “by Greta Thunberg”.

Rome’s 2022 Christmas Tree in Piazza Venezia is powered by two large photovoltaic panels installed at its base. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP)

Sgarbi described the initiative as “an exhibition of bogus environmentalism” and said the panels should not have been placed in the historic square.

The tree was quickly nicknamed “Fotovoltacchio” by politicians from the hard-right League.

But criticism also came from Linda Meleo, a former Rome councillor and member of the Five Star Movement, who said: “There are other ways of lighting the tree with clean energy without installing two panels which are objectively ugly”.

Rome mayor Roberto Gualtieri, a member of the centre-left Democratic Party, defended the decision to place the two panels by the tree, saying they were intended to “promote a culture of sustainability” and were appropriate at “this delicate moment linked to the war in Ukraine”.

“We made the right choice, it’s a choice marked by sustainability, practical but also symbolic,” he said, according to Italian news agency Ansa.

“We are at a time in which Europe sees the horror of war, many cities in Ukraine are without electricity, the price of energy is very high: we have a duty to promote renewable energy”.

READ ALSO: Lights off and home working: Milan’s new energy-saving plan for winter 

He said the panels would cover the tree’s energy usage and lower carbon dioxide emissions by “more than 17 kilos a day”.

Rome’s Superintendency reportedly stated during the approval of the plan that the use of photovoltaic panels “must be considered an exception and in no case can the use of this technology constitute a precedent within the historic centre of Rome, a Unesco site”. 

Christmas displays in many of Italy’s cities are a little less flashy this year as councils try to keep costs down amid the European energy crisis.