Ahh, Christmas. Who doesn’t love it? The lights, the trees, the presents… the lights. Wait, the lights? Those lights, that are fogging my vision with their intense brightness, hindering my sense of time and daylight, all in an effort to put me in the Christmas spirit?
Yes, those lights.
The Christmas lights of Perigueux went on tonight to celebrate the beginning of the holiday season. In a grandioseness that can only be found in small towns hoping to prove themselves, these lights are extravagent. I’ve been around – Tokyo, Seoul, New Delhi, New York. But never have I seen lights like these.
In every street, in every alleyway is a string of iridescent bulbs, pumping their yellow glow onto the creamy stone buildings of this old French town. Dark green trees, orange stockings, yellow stars and laces of holly. It’s quite glorious, I must say. Especially for someone who’s admittedly not much in the Christmas spirit these days, having just lost her job and not yet received her November salary.
But even still, a girl has to wonder. How much is this costing us? And has anyone in France ever discussed the issue of light pollution? In America, we are obsessed wtih the idea of an environmentally friendly Christmas, even if we don’t engage in one ourselves. But here in France, the topic doesn’t come up, either in conversation or in print.
It’s not that the French don’t care about saving the earth, but they just don’t seem to be “au courant” about the negatives of Christmas. Or maybe, like so many of the rest of us, they want to put their cares away for a few weeks and just be unforgivingly merry.
In any case, the figures are shocking. In the last ten years, light pollution has become a growing problem and France has seen a 30% increase in the general use of lights, according to the Agir pour l’environnement association. In 2007, towns in France spent more than one million euros to light up their streets during the winter. While figures for Christmas vary by town, one can venture to guess that most of those millions are spent on glittering Santas than on corner street lamps.
So what is a Christmas fan to do about the energy conundrum? Do we all just cry “bo-hum-bug” and shut off the lights? Perhaps there is a better way.
LED bulbs have become all the rage in the States, so why not spend the extra bucks in using them around town here as well. Instead of lighting the streets until the break of dawn, we must turn off the plastic Santas at some point in the night. Drunk partyers and other nocturnal beings surely won’t mind. And, in these times of economic crisis, we’ve got to employ the theory of “less is more.” One string of lights every four blocks instead of one every two will not matter to the average Perigourdin.
As I walked home tonight at 9 pm, at a time that would otherwise be night, I was again flabbergasted by the amount of light in the street. But as much of a cynic as I wanted to be, as much money as I felt was being flushed down the drain with every second, I took the moment to walk the empty, bright streets alone, and savor the Christmas spirit.