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Lights are everywhere at Christmas – but have you ever thought about why?
The holiday originated as a Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus, who is considered ‘the light of the world’. Lights also represent the guiding star featured in the biblical nativity story, which led the three wise men to baby Jesus, where they presented him with gifts. The symbolism linked to lights makes them relevant and important at this time of year. Even before Christmas though, lights were a popular feature in December in some parts of the world. December in ancient Rome marked the start of the ancient Pagan celebrations of Saturnalia, a festival of light leading into the Winter Solstice to celebrate the God, Saturn. During the festival, candles were burnt and even given as gifts.
Due to these historic roots, we see all sorts of lights at Christmastime; fairy lights on trees or draped across mantelpieces, candles in Christingles, table centrepieces and advent candles.
After the development of electric lights (thanks to Thomas Edison), it gradually became easier to decorate not only the inside, but the outside of homes too, with Americans kick-starting this trend. Every year people make their homes extraordinary by decorating their walls, rooves and gardens with festive light displays. Whether it’s to raise money for charity, compete with neighbouring households, or just for the fun of it - some of us like to go the extra mile when it comes to festive lights, with some homes even being turned into light shows set in time with music!
Strings of electric bulbs also meant people started lighting up neighbourhoods or public spaces. It was our neighbours across the pond who are thought to have started the custom, with ‘Christmas Tree Lane’ in California in the 1920s. After which it became increasingly popular to decorate streets and town centres with strings of lights.
Don’t miss the chance to see Durham light up on Sunday 22nd November. The much anticipated annual switch on event takes place in the Market Place in Durham city centre. Not only does it signal that the countdown to Christmas has begun, but it also marks the start of a whole host of festive events taking place across December in the city centre. Why not brighten up the dark afternoons and come along to the St Nicholas Children’s Lantern Procession on Saturday 5th December. Starting in the market place, the procession leads up to Palace Green and the Cathedral to help get you in the festive mood.