Christmas lights go dark in small towns

Businesses say they simply cannot afford to pitch in for Yuletide cheer

The recent uproar over a community association’s decision to drop the neighbourhood Christmas tree made national – and international – headlines. It was reported as a full out War on Christmas featuring strong-arming Muslims on one side and a violation of an elected body’s democratic rights on the other.

But in some places throughout Denmark, seasonal lights are not coming on simply because there is not enough money to pay for them.

Closed shops and a struggling economy are making it harder and harder for businesses and cities to decorate for the holidays.

The nation’s retailers pick up a large portion of the bill for the festive hearts, bells, garland and lights over their town’s pedestrian streets, and more and more are opting out.

"We have dropped Christmas lights on one street this year because we simply cannot find the money,” Helle Sørensen, head of Viborg Handel, the Jutland town’s chamber of commerce, told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “Many shops said that they simply did not have the three to five thousand kroner each it costs to keep the lights on.”

While councils in some areas provide a grant for Christmas lights, Sørensen fears that closing shops will result in even fewer holiday lighting displays.

"When storefronts stand empty, there is no one to send the bill to,” she said. “Those still in business have to pay more and more and that is not fair.”

The Copenhagen suburb of Frederiksberg is doubling the distance between lighting strands in order to stretch both decorations and money.

"It is a struggle everywhere,” said Bent Aarrebo Pedersen, chairperson of Danmarks Handelsstandsforeninger, the national shopkeeper’s association. “It is difficult to find funding for joint activities in the towns at a time when revenue has stalled.”

Larger cities seem to be faring better than small towns when it comes to holiday decorating.

Claus Bech, head of the local business lobby Aarhus City, acknowledged that it gets harder and harder to find the money for Christmas lights every year, but he considers it both time and funding well spent.

"If Christmas lights are shut down elsewhere, the cities that keep them on have the edge during the holiday season,” Bech told Jyllands-Posten.

The high shopping turnover on Copenhagen’s busy streets has actually allowed the capital to expand its lighting this year.

"We actually have a very broad support for our Christmas decorations, but I know that it is a challenge in many places to get decorations up," Jan Michael Hansen, head of the inner city advocacy group Københavns City Center, told Jyllands-Posten.

Meanwhile Aulum, a tiny town of just over 3,000 residents located between Herning and Holstebro in Jutland, went on the offensive and asked for donations to keep the lights burning.

“We heard only positive things about the new LED Christmas lighting that we set up last year,” city spokesperson Bodil Grove Christrensen said. “They cost less to operate, but we have also spent all of our money, so we are asking everyone to chip in. We welcome both small and large donations.”