Let there be light for Edinburgh’s Christmas

Sir Chris Hoy turns on last year's Christmas lights. Picture: Toby Williams

Sir Chris Hoy turns on last year's Christmas lights. Picture: Toby Williams

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IT might seem far too early for the arrival of the season to be jolly.

But tomorrow afternoon, Edinburgh’s city centre will be full of festive cheer and Christmas carols as the lights are switched on and the countdown to the big day can officially begin.

Around 26,000 people are expected to line the streets to take in the host of entertainment being provided as part of this year’s Light Night ahead of the switch-on itself.

Sixty community groups featuring 1350 local performers will take to the seven ­stages which will be set up along the length of George Street.

As Edinburgh’s largest free community event, organisers are keen to stress that this is a “celebration for residents”.

“This is a great local event”, says John Donnelly, chief executive of Markting Edinburgh. “Last year we had 26,000 people so we are hoping to get at least the same this year.

“The entertainment is being provided by the community for the community.”

This year’s theme for the switch-on is Christmas carols and festive songs, which the community groups will use as inspiration for their performances. The performers feature a number of Edinburgh schools – including Stenhouse Primary, Trinity Academy and Wester Hailes Education Centre – who will be taking to the stages up and down George Street in the run up to the switch on at 4.45pm.

The entertainment is a diverse mix of music, dance and even cheerleading, with acts ranging from the Highland Piper Brighde Chaimbeul to the Edinburgh Bhangra Crew.

Another of the acts, Edinburgh’s Got Soul, will see 34 choir members take to the stage performing songs by artists including Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. The choir’s director Maryam Ghaffari, says: “We will be doing a soulful take on lots of songs, including a Christmas song.

“We are not a straight-up choir doing Christmas carols - we will be very uplifting and will cheer everyone up.

“This will be our second Light Night. It’s such good fun and an incredible thing to do.

“George Street was like a carpet of heads when we were performing last year, it was fantastic.

“We have got our end of term concert on December 12 in the Queen’s Hall so Light Night will put us out there and let people know about us.”

Sixty young dancers from Gorgie-based Elite Studio Centre will take to the stage to showcase their ballet, jazz, street and break dancing skills.

Co-director Amanda McNally says: “Our dancers are as young as five years old and we also have a lot of professional dancers.

“Everyone is so excited about performing at Light Night. We absolutely loved it last year having the opportunity to showcase our kids.

“This year we decided to include as many of our pupils as possible so we will have up to 60.

“It’s great because their families and friends are all able to come along and watch them perform.

“Also, quite a lot of our wee ones look up to our professional dancers so it’s lovely for them being able to dance alongside them.”

The Christmas tree on The Mound - a gift from the people of Hordaland in Norway – will be lit up at the same time as the rest of the lights are turned on.

Host Arlene Stuart will be joined by a “special festive guest” who will have the honour of switching on this year’s lights, and the Edvard Grieg Choir from Norway will lead crowds on George Street in a festive sing-a-long.

“The lovely thing about Edinburgh’s Christmas is it’s great seeing so many communities coming together to ­celebrate,” says the Forth One presenter.

“I feel very ­honoured to be working with Edinburgh’s Christmas. It’s a really special event and usually my Christmas doesn’t start until Light Night.

“Kids of all ages – right up to people well into their 70s - turn up and you can see the joy in their faces.

“It’s not just carol singers and musicians, it’s dance groups and entertainers so there’s something different to suit everyone.”

The fireworks and grand switch on are expected to take place at 4.45pm.

Lord Provost Donald Wilson and the County Convener of Hordaland County Council will join the special guest for the official switch on.

Festivities start at 1.30pm and finish at 5pm.