If you ask me when Christmas should start, I will always say as soon as Halloween is over. St Andrews seemed to share this sentiment – this year, BID (St Andrews’ Business Improvement District) organised the lights switch on for November 2nd, a while away from Christmas Day. The Christmas lights are a key part of getting into the festive spirit, with the switching on becoming an important event in the community calendar. Many places, especially bigger cities, make a huge deal out of Christmas light switch on, with celebrities making guest appearances to press the button – Regent Street Christmas lights has had Kylie Minogue and the Spice Girls in the past.
In St. Andrews, however, the lights switch-on was a meeker affair than what might be seen on Regent Street. The stage was tucked away in the corner of Church Square by The Doll’s House – from Market Street, which is of course the busiest place during the day, you wouldn’t necessarily have been able to see the crowd of people gathered around. Acts from around the community – including a children’s choir, a community choir and a George Michael tribute act – performed a range of pieces from 3:30 onwards. The main event happened at 5 pm, meaning that the crowd of people grew as it got darker.
The event had a great community spirit about it – Stephen Gethins, MP for North East Fife, Callum MacCleod, member of the St Andrews Community Council and head students from St Leonards School and Madras College were all up on the stage to press the button to switch the lights on. It was clearly a family affair – Stephen Gethins even had his little girl up on stage with him!
Though the occasion was a lovely start to the winter festivities, I couldn’t help but feel that the evening could have been made into an even more community-based event, including all cultures and people from around the town. Interestingly, the event was called ‘Winter Lights Switch On’, with no reference to Christmas – I don’t know whether this was an attempt to make the event a little more inclusive to other religions, but it didn’t feel like that was the aim since the music played was pretty much exclusively Christmas hits.
I think it’s important to remember that nowadays, it isn’t as though Christmas is exclusively celebrated by Christians. I have plenty of friends who are completely non-religious but engage in Christmas festivities because it’s a great excuse to get together as a family or community. Whilst it’s true that some parts of Christmas – church services, carols and songs – are very much about the origin of the celebration and the birth of Jesus, there seems to be so much more about harmony, friendship and love around this time of the year.
In this respect, I thought it was disappointing that BID didn’t take advantage of the wide and diverse culture we have in our student body; the only group of St Andrews not represented in the festivities on stage were University students. Whilst it is understandable that the town doesn’t want to rely on university students to be a part of every single event, it would have made sense to me to utilise the great variety of cultures and talents we have here in our student body – we have musical, dramatic, artistic talent galore, so why not make it a whole community effort! Indeed, the university is such a central part to St. Andrews, it would be far better to embrace our presence.
That being said, the lights look incredible and give St Andrews an added magical touch at night – one of the only positive things about the shorter days and longer nights is that we get more time to observe how pretty St Andrews looks with sparkly snowflakes and twinkling lights hung across every street.