Christmassy Public Spaces

By: Yusra Gul Faraz


A public space is a social space that is generally open and accessible to people. Roads (including the pavement), public squares, parks and beaches are typically considered public space. Public spaces are the best spaces for public expression and the most powerful vehicle to showcase and express the cheerful feelings of the public during festivals. The ability of public spaces to attract people irrespective of caste color and religion makes them the best place to convey true spirit of celebration of any festival. And, Christmas tops the list when it comes to discussing how festivals and their festivities can transform a city or a place completely…

Christmas is among the most widely high spirited festivals of the world. Celebrated on 25th of December, it involves decorating one’ own home as well as creating Nativity scenes in the neighbourhood schools, community centres. These nativity scenes depict the birth of Jesus, just like there are ‘jhankis’ in India during the festival of Janamashthami, depicting Krishna’s birth and lifetime. Decorations include installing and lighting of Christmas trees, the hanging of Advent wreaths, Christmas stockings, candy canes, and mistletoe. However, Christmas is not confined to family and homes… it is celebrated on streets and squares. From children’s groups singing carols to on-the-spot bands singing hymns and songs, people come out of their homes also to spread the cheer  and collect in the public spaces.

Public spaces in cities have innumerable advantages, but being places of celebration is one of the foremost: they link local residents, act as a place to hold community events and offer a place of calmness in a busy, ever-on-the-move urban environment. These areas are vital for preserving the local culture in cities and can bring communities together throughout the year, and especially during the festivals. It is interesting how different public places are re-imagined and transformed in different ways during Christmas. Here, only a few famous ones are mentioned…

European Christmas Markets (Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark)

All major cities feature public spaces dedicated to the holidays. They’re one part art and light display; one part food and entertainment; and shopping is the topping! Mostly, they are about getting people outdoors during festival holidays to celebrate collectively and spend on family and friends and mix and mingle. Copenhagen’s Christmas Market, for example, features four miles of Christmas lights strung around Tivoli Gardens under the direction of the city’s chief Tiffany’s designer. Each market is a bit different, but is built on hundreds of years of local tradition and often occupies space near the city’s main cathedral.


Tivoli Gardens and Copenhagen’s Christmas celebrations (

Similarly, Dresden is famous for its 8000 pounds fruitcake at Christmas. It is a multi-sensory experience to wander the Christmas markets of these towns, with light displays, carolers, and the smell of traditional holiday foods in the air.The lights, the stalls, and the Christmas music in the park together create a unique Christmas atmosphere. There are three public light shows of about five minutes each, and can be experienced multiple times over the course of an evening. There are  more than 50 interestingly designed stalls of varying sizes, selling food, sweets, hot drinks, Christmas decorations, knitted products, leather products, crafts items etc.


Fairy Tale Christmas Market, Denmark

San Antonio (Texas, USA) River Walk

San Antonio is known for being a festive city. Every year on Christmas, the historic streets and famous River Walk shine brighter than ever. While strolling among millions of decorative lights, visitors of all ages are treated to dazzling displays and breathtaking arrangements. San Antonio is one of the prettiest spots in the world to witness a most illuminated transformation of public spaces! Millions of colourful Christmas lights on River Walk are reflected glittering in the water of the river as part of the annual Festival of Lights.The annual lighting of the Christmas tree in Alamo Plaza collects the whole town in one place. San Antonio combines its tradition and natural heritage with festivities to bring out the most of it. San Antonio is an amazing city with iconic historical sites such as the Alamo and The King William District as well as the vibrant and lively precincts of El Mercado and La Villita, and best visited in the city’s most beautiful time of the year – Christmas.


River Walk in Christmas (

Lismore, Australia; Estonia and other places – Sustainable Christmas trees

While rest of the world is busy in decorating and illuminating public spaces in elegant, pretty and at times ostentatious ways, Lismore in Australia decorates with the spirit of sustainability. Old bicycles were put to use last Christmas  – almost 100 bikes destined for scrap metal were instead welded into a magnificent, colorful tree lit with solar panels. City council staff and their families painted the bike tires that adorn the tree in secret so that it was a surprise for the city’s inhabitants. A story on the council’s website said: “The Christmas tree was made with parts from more than 90 bikes, 50 litres of white paint, almost half a tonne of steel, around $30 worth of colours-tints from the paint shop, and a lot of love and Christmas spirit.”

Sustainable trees of tyres – Lismore (photo – google images and Lismore City Council website)

Some other places that have used public spaces in Christmas to send out the message of sustainability are – Santa Monica, California which had a tree made entirely of discarded shopping carts – those that are used in super markets. In Rakevere, Estonia, Sculptor Teet Sur constructed a 40-foot Christmas tree made entirely of 121 colorful recycled windows—121 of them – erected with the help of local over a couple of days in Rakevere’s town square. Many cities in Northeast U.S. – such as Gloucester have made huge Christmas trees with lobster traps.


Tree of windows- Rakevere, Estonia. (Photo- Martin Latt)

GIF the Halls, San Francisco

Sending Christmas and New Year cards has become a tedious job on the to-do list of the new generation, although some of them would claim environmental concerns. Last year, GIF the Halls, offered a novel solution. Participants had holiday messages projected onto a 100 foot tall digital greeting card on the side of a San Francisco building. This experiment was a partnership between WP Engine Labs, 10up, and Gray Area Foundation. The images were projected at two highly trafficked areas on San Francisco’s Market Street from 20th  to 23rd December. Not only was this an opportunity for graphic artists to exhibit their creativity on a huge canvas (projection on wall) in downtown San Fransisco, it was a creative combination of technology, design, and bringing a memorable holiday experience to a public space, demonstrating the potential to re-imagine how we can use public spaces in ever-changing and newer ways.


The redefined public space used for conveying Christmas wishes (source – GIF The Halls)

In fact, as this blog is on Word Press, quoting from an article on the internet – something common between Word Press and public spaces – they bring people together:

“GIF the Halls demonstrates the power and flexibility of WordPress, the open-source web platform. We believe that tools like WordPress have the power to bring people together, whether its from sharing thoughts in an intimate blog post or by projecting a 100-foot-tall, animated greeting card in downtown San Francisco. Hundreds of thousands of people will walk by these works of art displayed throughout the holiday season and be touched by WordPress in some unknown way.”

Goa, India

Christmas in Goa is one of the most important festivals that is celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm. . People from all the communities in Goa join hands to celebrate the festival. Every street of the city seems to come alive with the festivities. The beaches in Goa form the center of the festivities during this time. Loud music, dance and revelry, clubbed with sumptuous dishes mark the celebration of Christmas. Goa celebrates Christmas and New Year in its every nook and corner rather than designating festivities to one or two spaces.

‘The market places are all embellished with tinsel and buntings and people masquerading as Santa stalk customers, particularly children with gifts in the big cities. Decorated and glittering Christmas trees are all over the place. The entire atmosphere is one of festivity and much like Diwali, Goa is lit up with Christmas stars and lights that come on to herald the birth of Christ and the peal of bells rent the air’. A week or 10 days before Christmas, a family group or a village group with one among them dressed as Santa go carol singing with a box to raise funds. These funds are normally contributed towards a meal for the poor.


Nativity scene created in the church plaza, Goa (Google images)

Besides incessant partying the likes of which is unmatched anywhere else in the country, there are so many activities around the city, and people attend a number of them instead of remaining in one place. Thus the whole city is alive and awake from Christmas Eve to the Feast of the Magi on 6th January. Beaches, streets, square – all have parties and collective activities like sand sculptures, star making competitions and community cake preparations- all in the outdoors.


Santa sand sculpture, Goa (

After Christmas. ‘burning of the old man’ is a tradition followed in Goa every New Year’s eve, where an effigy of a ragged looking old man made of old clothes and straw is burnt on the beaches to signify that all that is ill and negative will not continue to the next year.

Rockefeller Center and other public spaces, New York

Christmas in New York City is synonymous with Christmas Tree lighting at the Rockefeller Center and the performances in its plaza, Central Park and the walk along Fifth Avenue from 59th Street to Macy’s at 34th – with the best Christmas and holiday windows (of stores) in the world (Saks, Barneys, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s etc). These shops overlooking the street take their Christmas window displays very seriously as it is the crowds around windows that mark the winner!


One of the Christmas shop displays – 5th Avenue (Google Images)

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is a world-wide symbol of the holidays. Rockefeller Center is a shopping complex spanning several city blocks of Midtown Manhattan. It is a public space where among shops, buildings, skating rink, a Christmas tree has been installed every year for the past many decades. The first tree was installed collectively by construction workers building the Center in 1931.


Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree (photo – Google Images)

Kolkata, India

Christmas was a big festival in Kolkata during the British Raj and still is, but celebrated in a big way in some areas only. A huge service is held at St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Park Street has a Christmas Carnival every year and the adjoining New Market is brightly decorated with huge Santas and lights.

During Christmas and New Year, Park Street becomes Party Street. Decked up in lights, it is like an open-air Christmas party with food and drink stalls, live music, and entertainment at nearby Allenby Park. From Christmas Eve, Park Street is pedestrianised – no vehicles are allowed – as celebrating crowds descend to give it a carnival-like atmosphere. Sporting Santa caps, people brave the queues at heritage restaurants like Trincas and Moulin Rouge which offer a lavish Christmas platter with roast duck, turkey and pies. At the Christmas Carnival of Park Street, stalls are set up by members of different communities residing in the city – selling traditional food as well as innovative cakes and cookies.


Decked up – Park Street- the party street, Kolkata (photo – Mike Prince, Flickr)

Merry Christmas – Go out on the streets – have fun in the city – safely and civilly 


(post edited by Kanak Tiwari)


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