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Scrimp or Spend? Europeans Do Both This Holiday Season

  • Lisa Bryant

Shoppers visit the Christmas market along the Champs Elysees in Paris, December 3, 2011.

Shoppers visit the Christmas market along the Champs Elysees in Paris, December 3, 2011.

Europeans head into a grim holiday season, as governments cut spending and recession fears mount for 2012. Austerity is the byword in some of the countries hardest hit by Europe's debt crisis, but others are sending out the old year with a final, celebratory bash.

Shoppers crowd the holiday window displays outside the Galleries Lafayette, the famous department store in central Paris. Most are juggling shopping bags filled with holiday gifts. Thirty-five-year-old Alexandra de Brito is among the few who is bare-handed.

De Brito says she will not be buying any presents this Christmas time - even though she makes a good salary. Instead, she will make her family a good Christmas dinner and buy them presents during the after-Christmas sales. That is because the cost of everything is going up, she says - everything except salaries.

Across Europe, citizens like De Brito are pulling in their belts this holiday season - in line with their governments, who are introducing austerity measures to combat the region's sovereign debt and banking crisis. In some of the hardest-hit countries, like Portugal, Greece and Spain, local governments have cut their holiday budgets and dimmed their Christmas lights.

But the picture is more mixed in countries like France, which are still teetering on the brink of the eurozone crisis. Thousands of people protested in Paris and other French cities this last week against new government austerity measures.

Twenty-five-year-old student Pierre Dubovatsky joined the Paris demonstrations.

"I am afraid for my future," he said. "I do not have enough money to live [on] ... As things are difficult and I do not live with my family, I will just use the little money I have to get my family in the south of France, and this will be how I'll be celebrating Christmas. There will be no presents, just getting together."

British tourists Paul and Anita Scotney, eyeing a window display at a Cartier's diamond store on the elegant Champs Elysees, are also worried.

"We are not here to buy anything really," he said. "It is just purely to see my son and to see Paris, because we have never been to Paris before."

Although Britain is not part of the eurozone, its economy is struggling, and the Scotneys are concerned.

"Depressed, mostly," said Paul Scotney. "Worried. I am retired so it does not really affect me but Anita is still working, so the job situation could affect us."

But other people - French and Europeans - are opening their pocketbooks this holiday season. Throngs packed department stores during the last weekend before Christmas. Analyst Philippe Moreau Defarges believes people are celebrating while they can.

"I think many Europeans and many French are becoming aware that next year will be difficult," he said. "That is why if we can have a last merry Christmas - let us take it."

As strollers admire the holiday decorations on the Champs Elysees, a young man called Gwele rings a bell for the Salvation Army charity, soliciting donations.

Gwele says the French are still giving to the poor and homeless this holiday season - aware that they are the first to suffer in these hard economic times.

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