Oxford Street in the run-up to Christmas (or at any time, really) can be hell on earth. Indeed, I remember getting uncomfortably stuck in a human traffic jam at Oxford Circus the day before Christmas Eve some years ago, after being unwillingly dragged up there for some last-minute shopping by a friend – I vowed ‘never again’ after that!
But while walking down towards Marble Arch and the bus home one evening a few weeks ago, I was struck by how pretty a lot of this year’s Christmas lights are, especially the delicate silvery-white sparkling globes strung across the length of Oxford Street. This makes a change, as anyone who witnessed the horribly tacky and disappointing ‘sponsored’ lights of the last few years will agree.
However you feel about the temples of commerce that are Oxford and Regent Streets, their annual displays of lights are a London seasonal tradition – one that dates back to the 1950s. After media complaints that Central London looked very dull at Christmas time, the Regent Street Association decided to do something about it and put up the first lights in 1954.
Five years later, in 1959, Oxford Street decided to follow suit – although bits of their display rather dangerously fell off several times that year. There have been other controversies too, mainly over funding (which explains the sponsorship seen in recent decades), and economic recession even meant there were no Central London Christmas lights at all at various points during the 1960s and 1970s.
In more recent years, environmental issues have come to the fore, with concerns voiced in the media about the amount of energy used by the lights, which remain on 24 hours a day. In 2006, the organisers of the display explained they were using low energy bulbs and had already significantly reduced their power consumption (however, I don’t know what the statistics are now).
Traditionally switched on in mid-November (although this can change – for example, the ceremony was postponed in 1963 after the death of JFK), and usually by a celebrity of some kind, the lights of Oxford Street will remain on until the end of the Christmas season on January 6th. During that time, millions of people will visit Oxford Street to shop and see the lights.
I’ll be staying at home, I think…
For more Christmas in London posts, see here.
For more Christmas posts, see here.