City counts down to Thursday’s big Christmas switch-on
Christmas celebrations make a welcome return to the streets of Leicester this year – but with a new format for the traditional lights' switch-on to help people stay safe.
Instead of a stage programme on Humberstone Gate – which, in previous years, drew densely-packed crowds – the city council will provide attractions at five locations across the city centre to encourage people to enjoy the switch-on, wherever they are.
From 5pm on Thursday (18 November), people will be able to enjoy food and a festive film in Green Dragon Square, funfair rides on Humberstone Gate, live music and an interactive adventure in Town Hall Square, street entertainers near the Clock Tower Christmas tree, and a spectacular light installation on Orton Square.
At 6.30pm, those enjoying the fun at all five locations will be invited to share in the build-up to the big switch-on by joining in with a countdown led by BBC Radio Leicester and broadcast on speakers at each site.
Across the city centre, 16,000 colourful lamps will light up Leicester’s squares and shopping streets, signalling the start of the Christmas celebrations.
On Gallowtree Gate, new elegant red and white decorations will span the street, while there’s a fresh look for the Town Hall, where the traditional ‘Christmas Greetings’ motif will be joined by some colourful new LED Christmas trees.
At the Clock Tower, a 50ft Christmas tree will sparkle with hundreds of pea-lights, while the city’s traditional nativity scene and a festive tableau scene – featuring a new augmented reality experience for youngsters – will have pride of place in Town Hall Square.
Deputy city mayor Cllr Piara Singh Clair said: “We’re looking forward to welcoming people to Leicester city centre on Thursday (18 November) for what should be a wonderful evening.
“It should be a great opportunity to catch up with friends, enjoy a meal with the family or maybe even make a start on your Christmas shopping!”
Free festive films in Green Dragon Square will start at 5pm on Thursday (18 November). Family favourite The Snowman™ will be shown on the Corn Exchange screen at 5pm, followed by The Snowman™ and The Snowdog, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Sweet treats, hot drinks and hot food – including pizzas, hot dogs and vegan options – will be available from stalls in Green Dragon Square.
On Humberstone Gate, there’ll be a festive funfair (18 Nov-2 Jan), while a 22m-high ‘Happy Wheel’ will take visitors for a spin in Jubilee Square. Over in Orton Square, BID Leicester has sponsored a spectacular overhead light installation, Rhizome, which is set to captivate visitors from 18 November until 5 January.
Costumed characters and street entertainers, including some illuminated penguin puppets, will create pockets of fun throughout the city centre, and there’ll be live music from brass band collectives, carolling choirs and local steel pan players as part of the switch-on night programme.
People heading for the city centre from outside the city are encouraged to use Leicester’s Park & Ride services. Two of the services – from Birstall and Enderby – have been specially extended for switch-on night. The last buses back to Birstall and Enderby will leave the city centre at 9pm and 9.05pm respectively on 18 November. The last bus to Meynell’s Gorse will depart at 7pm as normal. A return ticket for up to five people in one car costs just £3.
City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “After last year’s scaled-down Christmas programme, it’s great to be able to bring back the attractions that help create such a wonderful festive atmosphere in Leicester.
“Although things feel more normal this year, COVID hasn’t gone away, so we’ll be keeping an eye on local infection rates as we head into winter, just in case we need to amend the programme to keep people safe. But our intention is to celebrate Christmas in style this year, and give families and friends plenty of opportunities to have fun together in Leicester city centre.”
With COVID-19 infection rates still high, the city council is asking people to do a quick test before attending the switch-on event, and to wear a face covering if they're travelling on public transport or whenever they’re in a crowded space.
Director of public health Professor Ivan Browne said: "While the risk of transmission at an outdoor event is much lower than in an indoor space, the virus can easily be passed on when people are close together.
“That’s why we’re asking people to take a quick lateral flow test before attending our switch-on event, just to make sure they’re not carrying the virus without realising it.
“To further reduce the risk of transmission, we’re also asking anyone with any cold or flu-like symptoms to stay at home and not mix with others – even if they’ve had a negative rapid COVID test.
“Wearing a face covering whenever you’re in a crowded space – whether that’s indoors or outdoors – is a really good idea, and don’t forget that regular hand-washing is an important part of your COVID-19 defences.
“The best thing you can do to protect yourself and others is to make sure that you’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19, so please get your jabs, if you haven’t already done so.
“It’s especially important for people over 40, or those with health conditions that make them more vulnerable, to get the booster jab as soon as they are eligible. This will make sure they are fully protected throughout the winter period when it is much easier for the virus to spread."
Free home testing kits will be available in Green Dragon Square from 3pm on switch-on night (Thursday 18 November) from the yellow council van. Free tests are also available from pharmacies and from the rapid testing centre at Fosse neighbourhood centre.
More information about Christmas in Leicester is available at christmasinleicester.co.uk
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