Christmas illuminations are an annual tradition in our towns, and bathe our High Streets in a festive glow. The annual switch-on ceremonies can be quite the spectacle too, with everything from food stalls and charity stands to lantern processions and an all-day Dickensian market all featuring locally.
These events unite the community and help us to get in a Santa frame of mind.
Covid has called a halt to all of the associated fun this year. But as Sammy Jones found out, the pandemic won’t put a stop to the lights themselves.
Newport Pagnell’s illuminating display has been an annual tradition since 1960; on Friday, December 2 the first big switch-on took place, with Earl Beatty of Chicheley giving the command.
Every year since, a dedicated team of volunteers have worked hard for the good of the community to deliver the seasonal event.
It’s an all year effort too; stock taking, fundraising, maintenance work and many other tasks all need to be carried out.
Unsurprisingly, this year there will be no annual parade of stalls to stroll along and none of the associated festive shenanigans. But the lights will glow: “The lights are a Newport Pagnell tradition, the same as the carnival,” said vice chairman of the Christmas lights committee, Scott Humphries.
“This will be the 61st time that Newport Pagnell Christmas lights have illuminated the town. The current volunteers are a passionate bunch. We are custodians,” Scott said, “It’s for us to keep the lights shining!”
The ancient market town of Stony Stratford already has character in abundance; the addition of seasonal lights serves to illuminate its charm and organisers are thrilled that people travel from far and wide to enjoy the spectacle that has been a part of Christmas in the town since 1961.
Until 1989, the switch was flicked on a Friday evening, with a parade of vintage cars and people on horseback marking the launch.
In 1990, the event was moved to a Saturday, and has since turned into a huge family event. The streets are usually a bustle of people, as thousands turn out to see the lights and sample the festive fun. Since 2000 the town has also hosted a lantern procession which is now a huge community project in its own right, and one that delivers 100s of artistically ace creations.
The CLASS (Christmas Lights at Stony Stratford) team were devastated to have to scrap the annual events: “We have had many expressions of disappointment in response to our announcement about the switch-on day although everyone is very understanding as to the inevitability of it considering the circumstances,” said Ian Welborn, “However, thanks to David Odell’s lights team we will have many of the lights that we normally have and with some ingenuity a display of lanterns throughout the town. We hope that by 2021, Stony Lights Fun Day will come back bigger and better than ever.”
Ordinarily, wonderful Woburn would invite you to visit for the annual Carols-on-the-Cobbles session with the Danesborough Chorus, and a chance to meet Father Christmas, but not in 2020.
Sixteen years ago the Woburn Traders’ Association started to put up Christmas lights along the shop fronts in Market Place, in the heart of the village, and with revenue from the monthly market, they bought more lights every year. At first the lights were blue but as those wore out they were replaced with white.
“Now we have white lights all along the entire main street and into Leighton Street and George Street, on all the houses as well as the shops, pubs and restaurants” said Gill Green, chairman of the Woburn Heritage Centre, “The Duke of Bedford gives the village a large Christmas tree each year which stands beside the old Town Hall and is decorated in the same white lights. So this year, in spite of covid-19, Woburn Village will look bright and festive.”
Olney Town Council won’t let the covid-19 pandemic get in the way of lighting up Olney for Christmas, even if they have had to call-off one calendar highlight.
“It is such a shame that we have had to cancel the popular annual Dickens of a Christmas event, and we hope that the event will return bigger and better in 2021,” said Olney town clerk Andrea Vincent.
“This year the Christmas tree, Market Place and the length of the High Street will be lit up, which will bring a festive and fabulous feel to the town. There will also be a superb range of retailers offering all manner of original and unique Christmas gifts.”
And, if you can’t get to the shops during usual hours, you’ll be pleased to learn that some of the retailers in the town have arranged for late night shopping opportunities. Please check with individual stores before making a journey.
Additionally, the monthly Farmers Market is booked for December 6, and the regular Thursday markets will be held throughout December, including on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, and an additional date on Sunday, December 13, which will give you the opportunity to purchase from many of the traders who you would usually find at the Thursday market, with plenty of Christmas goodies for sale.
“We extend a warm invitation to everyone to visit us, to support our local retailers, market traders and to enjoy what Olney has on offer this Christmas,” Andrea added.
Bletchley and Fenny Stratford residents have been treated to illuminations in their respective High Streets for a number of years thanks to the Town Council, and in recent times they have offered a Christmas event alongside the official switch-on.
While Covid means the big mingle is off in 2020, the lights will definitely still twinkle!
“This year we will be having the Christmas tree in Stanier Square, and lights on the columns, which will be installed by the end of November,” promised Gill Long, support services manager for Bletchley and Fenny Stratford Town Council.
“We’ll still have a wonderful display for residents of the parish and all our visitors, and a visit to Fenny Stratford and Bletchley is a chance to support our independent retailers, and stock up at our familiar High Street names.
“If you are looking for great community spirit, treats and presents, come and try us!” Gill added.