ONE million bulbs will bathe Edinburgh in a dazzling festive glow this Sunday as record-breaking crowds turn out to kick-start the Capital’s Christmas celebrations.
Up to 30,000 revellers are expected to throng George Street for the annual switch-on bonanza dubbed “Light Night”.
Organiser say this year’s spectacular will eclipse previous incarnations with the help of 1350 performers spread over seven stages.
Last year’s event – the debut from new organisers Underbelly – attracted its largest-ever audience aided by Britain’s greatest Olympian Sir Chris Hoy triggering the start of the city’s official festive season.
Then, a 26,000-strong crowd lined the city centre but sources close to the bash insist numbers will eclipse previous records.
Some 60 community groups have been booked to wow crowds on stages positioned between St Andrews Square and Charlotte Square.
Diverse acts include Scotland’s youth piping champions, Punjabi dance troupes and the biggest cheerleading squad in the country.
The theme for this year’s event – hosted by Forth Radio’s Arlene Stuart alongside a mystery guest charged with pushing the plunger – is Christmas Songs and Carols.
The radio presenter will act as compere and she will be captured on a series of jumbo TV screens sprinkled in between stages across George Street.
From the Light Night’s Gold Stage situated in front of the Assembly Rooms, Arlene will be joined towards dusk by several well-known faces including the city’s Lord Provost, the RT Hon Donald Wilson.
Cllr Wilson urged the city to turn out for Light Night.
He said: “Getting Edinburgh’s Christmas festivities off to a dazzling start, Light Night is an outstanding display of fireworks, carol singing and lights.”
“As ever, the charitable event is by and for Edinburgh’s citizens.
“It is a community even and this year much needed funds will be raised for Cash for Kids.
“I encourage everyone to mark the date in their diary and take part as Edinburgh is lit up for Christmas.” Norwegian visitor Tom-Christer Nilsen, county convener of Hordaland County Council, is among the special guests taking part in the celebrations.
For the past 25 years, Hordaland has donated the towering Christmas tree that decorates The Mound.
The much-lauded Edvard Grieg Choir from Norway will also be on the Gold Stage with Mr Nilsen, hopefully spearheading a huge city centre sing-a-long as song sheets are circulated among the crowd.
Charlie Wood and Ed Bartlam, directors of Underbelly, and the directors of Edinburgh’s Christmas and the Light Night event, said: “We’re delighted to be bringing back this re-imagined Light Night to Edinburgh which we conceived to directly involve the Edinburgh community, who will sing and dance their favourite Christmas song to celebrate the advent of the festive period right in the City Centre.”
Sunday’s spectacle, which runs from 1.30pm until 5pm, is only the start of a six-week run of Christmas festivities.
Organisers say one of the most exciting additions to this year’s Christmas attractions will be the new ice rink that will surround the Melville Monument of St Andrew’s Square.
John Donnelly, chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh said the switch-on was a “perfect opportunity” to showcase the Capital’s festive line-up to residents and visitors alike.
He said: “We’re looking forward to welcoming people into the city centre to enjoy the jam-packed programme of events, as well as experiencing our infamous food, drink and retail offering.
“This will be a fantastic occasion for families and friends to celebrate the start of the six week long festive line-up and get into the Christmas spirit.”
Among the attractions is the return of the Christmas Tree Maze, the giant 60-metre Starflyer, Big Wheel and the famous performance venue Paradiso Spiegeltent.
Organisers say they’ve also introduced a host of more family-friendly activities in Princes Street Gardens and St Andrew’s Square – including a festive afternoon disco for infants.
Last year, Edinburgh’s Christmas was criticised for lacking children’s activities and high pricing structure.
But now everybody with an EH postcode will enjoy a 20 per cent discount for all rides, shows and events. Entry fees for some of this year’s attractions are as low as £1.
Despite bouts of criticism, Edinburgh’s Christmas was hailed a major success by organisers.
Records showed a 7.6 per cent increase in city centre footfall and more than 387,000 tickets were sold festive events.
And an estimated 2.6 million people are said to have visited the capital’s free Christmas attractions.
A subsequent report into last year’s Light Night recorded high levels of crowd satisfaction with revellers treated to two hours’ worth of African drummers, country dancers, Gaelic choirs and brass bands.
According to a spokesman for Underbelly, Light Night 2013 proved so popular amongst area traders that organisers were actually asked by local businesses to hold the city’s annual lighting ceremony a week earlier this year so that they could try to capitalise on the expected massive increase in footfall.
Andy Neal, the head of partner organisation Essential Edinburgh – which represents hundreds of city centre businesses – said he was confident this year’s stellar line-up would see crowd numbers rocket.
“We’ve got lots of exciting things happening along George street and lots of stages being set up, it should be an incredible night,” he said.
“We had 26,000 people attend last year – with this year’s programme of events, I’m more than hopeful that we can attract well over that amount.”