Culture Focus

London’s West End Christmas Lights
The switching on of the Christmas lights in London’s West End has become a landmark event in
the festive season. Thousands of people gather to watch the streets lit up, and in the weeks up
to Christmas many thousands more flock to London to see the famed illuminations. This event
ofcially kick starts the Christmas shopping season when 40 million shoppers, a quarter of whom
travel from overseas, are expected to come to see what London’s retail district has to ofer.
This year saw the lights in Oxford Street and Regent Street turned on together for the first time
in a grand coordinated illumination. British actor Colin Firth was there to switch the lights on in
Regent Street while American actor Jim Carrey took the Oxford Street switch. Celebrations also
took place at St Paul’s Cathedral and there were a number of street concerts to mark the event.
The West End ofers a diferent display each year in a tradition that dates back to 1948 when
Regent Street was first decorated with Christmas trees. The theme for 2009 centred around the
work of Charles Dickens, a popular English novelist from the Victorian era whose works are
largely concerned with the idea of social reform. His morality tale, A Christmas Carol, written
in 1843, is one of the most well-loved novels of all time and has remained an important part of
Christmas tradition, helping to shape the festive season in Britain with its tone of celebration and
merriment. This year’s switch-on coincided with the world premier of Disney’s new animated
adaptation of A Christmas Carol, starring Colin Firth and Jim Carrey.
A new world record was also set on the night at St Paul’s Cathedral with the largest ever gathering
of carol singers. Big screens were put up in Oxford Street and Regent street for the crowds gathered
there to watch the carol singing take place.
The streets will now be lit every day after dark until the twelfth day of Christmas, according to
tradition, and will be turned of on January 6th 2010.
QUESTIONS
1 Read the related articles to find out when the Christmas lights in London were switched on. Do
you think this is particularly early to start the Christmas season? Why do you think the lights
are switched on every year around this time?
2 Do you think the themes of the Victorian tale A Christmas Carol are still relevant to Christmas in
present day London?
3 Are there any novels, plays or tales which have a big influence on Christmas or other festive
traditions in your country?
VOCABULARY
Find definitions of the following words and phrases:
festive
illuminations
morality
merriment
carol
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