DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: Are Christmas lights ethical?



By: Nick Cassella

As I write this article in a coffee shop, watching snowflakes falling upon the cobblestones, with Sinatra’s ‘The First Noel’ playing on my iPod, I get a warm feeling. And no, it is not from consuming my 10,000 calorie eggnog latte. I realise that I love Christmas. I love every aspect of it. The decorations, the music, the presents. But above all, I love Christmas lights.

The coloured ones, the flashing ones, the glittery ones. They are as much a part of Christmas as a roast dinner or playing in the snow on Christmas Day. As a child, I remember holding the ladder as my Dad clung on precariously twenty metres above, hanging our lights. They were beautiful and at night our whole neighborhood lit up any passerby’s mood.

Some people say that they’re bad for the environment etc, etc. These same people probably drive their cars everywhere, pump their heating on when they’re not at home and leave lights on in rooms unoccupied. Why pick on Christmas lights? What have they ever done to you? Why don’t you focus all your ‘energy’ on trying to get office buildings to turn off their lights during the night? Or for eleven months of the year be especially energy conscious, so that for one month of the year you can afford to offer the world a bit of glow and cheer.

Don’t try to ruin my Christmas by making me feel guilty for showing a bit of holiday spirit. Get down from your moral high ground please.

Okay, listen to me. Close your eyes. Imagine you are walking down a shopping street on a December night, except there are no Christmas lights anywhere to be seen. Now imagine you’re in a neighborhood on Christmas Eve where darkness reigns and children ask their parent’s ‘Mummy, Daddy, tell us what was it like to see Christmas lights?’ Open your eyes, it’s okay, it’s okay. It was just a dream. But that is a scary place, isn’t it?

After all, Christmas lights play a huge role in creating the holiday spirit.

And so for you tree hugging hippies and hemp wearing pansies to tell me that they are ‘unethical’- well it’s like unplugging the very fabric of Christmas


By: Lucy Keen

I’m going to admit something that might surprise you, writing for the ‘against’ side. Christmas lights are one of my favourite things about Christmas. However that doesn’t mean they are entirely ethical, just because people generally regard them as ‘good’ things.

There are two clear arguments to suggest that the traditional lights we love to see every year are damaging both economically and environmentally.

When now more than ever, transparency with tax payers money in the UK is a hot topic, how can, for example, Manchester City Council spend £325,000 on Christmas displays and lights when jobs are being cut, and funding for community projects who desperately rely on that local council funding to sustain themselves.

It’s hard to justify saying to, for example, a local group for deaf people ‘we have to cut your funding- sorry it’s a recession, everyone has to suffer’.

Well apparently not everyone, when Lemar (the X-factor guy) gets £4000 for smiling and flicking a switch in Plymouth. It may be argued that the light displays boost the economy, enticing shoppers out on to the cold snowy streets to spend, spend, spend.

If that’s the case, surely the ones who should be paying for it are the retailers benefitting? And are people going to simply stop buying presents for their loved ones because there are no twinkling lights to lure them there?

Then there is the obvious argument- wherever energy is spent, so is the environment. According to the Energy Saving Trust, we could fill 15,000 hot air balloons with the carbon dioxide produced by our Christmas lights in the UK.

So if the government at the moment are serious about two things in these turbulent times, deep cuts in government spending and our precious environment. Lavish light displays are certainly a beautiful way of showing it.

I am not a scrooge, just saying we need to come up with an alternate method of bringing Christmas warmth to our hearts, or at least a clever, more green way.


  1. Lucy, since you mentioned us, I thought it was worth pointing out that Manchester’s Christmas lights, markets and events programme isn’t there just to make people feel festive – it’s absolutely critical to the success of the local economy.

    Our Christmas markets attracted 1.3 million visitors to the city last year, generating a benefit to the Manchester economy of just under £50m. These figures are from an independent report – we’ve not just plucked them from the air. It’s all about jobs and all about helping the local economy to thrive which in these difficult times is more important than ever. We also make a tidy profit out of them that goes back into supporting front line services.

    In terms of voluntary groups and charities, we provide significant support to a large number of organisations – and we distribute money each year that is approximately 200 times more than what we spend on Christmas lights.

    On council jobs, it’s a tough promise this but despite the cuts Manchester City Council has given a commitment to no compulsory redundancies.

    Finally, on the environmental issue, our Christmas lights are environmentally friendly and use 10% of the electric of standard Christmas lights. Similarly all of the materials being used in our markets this year are either reusable or recyclable. It’s our greenest Christmas ever.

    Just a final thought – it’s always worth checking with organisations before making the kinds of bold (and wrong) claims you do above!

    Regards and, of course, happy Christmas

    Smyth Harper
    Head of News
    Manchester City Council

  2. Dear Smyth,

    Its always good to challenge journalists, especially when they rush things last minute (not that I’m admitting that) and don’t go all-out to check their sources. So I thank you for taking the time to reply.

    My information came from a piece on the BBC’s One Show from the end of November which took Manchester City Council as an example of an all-out Christmas and looking at the issues surrounding that. You must have seen it, as evidently you keep on top of everything said about MCC. The claims made in my piece I would definitely say aren’t necessarily ‘wrong’ but a viewpoint; an opinion concluded from a bit of research, as is clear from the very name of the section of our beloved student newspaper.

    To be fair- I was never going to come out top on this devils advocate- I really do love Christmas lights.

    Kind Regards from St. Andrews



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