Central London: 5 pm, Friday night, December 9.th.
A Jamaican steel drum band had set up across from Marble Arch at the end of Oxford Street, one of the major shopping boulevards in London. They were performing their version of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” The sidewalks on either side of Oxford Street were packed. Stretching as far as the eye could see toward Oxford Circus were this year’s overhead illuminated “festive season” (the politically correct designation for this time of year) decorations. The repeated pattern included gift boxes, umbrellas and a large iconic stylized star which bore a striking resemblance to the logo of the Chrysler car company. The fronts of stores were also alight with streaming displays of colored bulbs and glittering trims.
Just past Selfridge’s, one of London’s most famous department stores, on a side street, a team of men were off-loading stacks of orange plastic traffic cones. Overnight, their task was to secure inroads into Oxford and Regent Streets, (which intersect at Oxford Circus) so that kiddy rides and platforms and all manner of food and entertainment stalls could be set up for the weekend’s – pedestrians only – shopping fair. The idea was apparently to celebrate holiday shopping for what it has become – a real circus.
Yet this street fair echoed a tribute to various Christmas villages which spring up all over Europe during the holidays, some for as long as three months. They are tourist draws cum retail attractions, luring many with fantastic displays of lights, food, song and treasures.
But behind all these displays of cheer, this December there are deep fears. Like villagers with brightly burning torches, everyone seemed determined to scare away the economic monster which was overshadowing what will come after Christmas in Europe.
Early on Friday morning, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, had derailed the latest meeting of European Union members by using his veto to reject a proposed new fiscal union which overreached the EU’s legal authority. Pundits had predicted that failure to reach an agreement at this summit (as opposed to all the ones before and those still scheduled) would bring on “Euro-gedden,” a financial apocalypse. Some said it would leave Britain isolated from the European Union. Others slyly agreed saying, “yes, as isolated as the person who missed sailing on the Titanic.”
This prediction is not without merit which might well explain much of the “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” attitudes across the UK and Europe, where consumer confidence levels sunk to their lowest levels in October.
Responding to questions from a reporter, a group of women in a Berlin bar said: “We don’t want to talk about the eurozone crisis. We are here for the shops and now it’s time to get drunk.” Upon hearing this, cheers went up at nearby tables. This was not a universal sentiment.
While budgets for holiday season celebrations and decorations were up, albeit modestly, in Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland and Poland, consumers in the Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Greece told researchers that they would be cutting back on Christmas spending.
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