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City counts down to Thursday’s big Christmas switch-on

Published on Tuesday, November 16, 2021

7 minute read

Tableau scene in Town Hall Square 2021

CHRISTMAS celebrations make a welcome return to the streets of Leicester this year – but with a new format for the traditional lights' switch-on to help people stay safe.

Instead of a stage programme on Humberstone Gate – which, in previous years, drew densely-packed crowds – the city council will provide attractions at five locations across the city centre to encourage people to enjoy the switch-on, wherever they are.

From 5pm on Thursday (18 November), people will be able to enjoy food and a festive film in Green Dragon Square, funfair rides on Humberstone Gate, live music and an interactive adventure in Town Hall Square, street entertainers near the Clock Tower Christmas tree, and a spectacular light installation on Orton Square.

At 6.30pm, those enjoying the fun at all five locations will be invited to share in the build-up to the big switch-on by joining in with a countdown led by BBC Radio Leicester and broadcast on speakers at each site.

Across the city centre, 16,000 colourful lamps will light up Leicester’s squares and shopping streets, signalling the start of the Christmas celebrations.

On Gallowtree Gate, new elegant red and white decorations will span the street, while there’s a fresh look for the Town Hall, where the traditional ‘Christmas Greetings’ motif will be joined by some colourful new LED Christmas trees.

At the Clock Tower, a 50ft Christmas tree will sparkle with hundreds of pea-lights, while the city’s traditional nativity scene and a festive tableau scene – featuring a new augmented reality experience for youngsters – will have pride of place in Town Hall Square.

Deputy city mayor Cllr Piara Singh Clair said: “We’re looking forward to welcoming people to Leicester city centre on Thursday (18 November) for what should be a wonderful evening.

“It should be a great opportunity to catch up with friends, enjoy a meal with the family or maybe even make a start on your Christmas shopping!”

Free festive films in Green Dragon Square will start at 5pm on Thursday (18 November). Family favourite The Snowman™ will be shown on the Corn Exchange screen at 5pm, followed by The Snowman™ and The Snowdog, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Sweet treats, hot drinks and hot food – including pizzas, hot dogs and vegan options – will be available from stalls in Green Dragon Square.

On Humberstone Gate, there’ll be a festive funfair (18 Nov-2 Jan), while a 22m-high ‘Happy Wheel’ will take visitors for a spin in Jubilee Square. Over in Orton Square, BID Leicester has sponsored a spectacular overhead light installation, Rhizome, which is set to captivate visitors from 18 November until 5 January.

Costumed characters and street entertainers, including some illuminated penguin puppets, will create pockets of fun throughout the city centre, and there’ll be live music from brass band collectives, carolling choirs and local steel pan players as part of the switch-on night programme.

People heading for the city centre from outside the city are encouraged to use Leicester’s Park & Ride services. Two of the services – from Birstall and Enderby – have been specially extended for switch-on night. The last buses back to Birstall and Enderby will leave the city centre at 9pm and 9.05pm respectively on 18 November. The last bus to Meynell’s Gorse will depart at 7pm as normal. A return ticket for up to five people in one car costs just £3.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “After last year’s scaled-down Christmas programme, it’s great to be able to bring back the attractions that help create such a wonderful festive atmosphere in Leicester.

“Although things feel more normal this year, COVID hasn’t gone away, so we’ll be keeping an eye on local infection rates as we head into winter, just in case we need to amend the programme to keep people safe. But our intention is to celebrate Christmas in style this year, and give families and friends plenty of opportunities to have fun together in Leicester city centre.”

With COVID-19 infection rates still high, the city council is asking people to do a quick test before attending the switch-on event, and to wear a face covering if they're travelling on public transport or whenever they’re in a crowded space.

Director of public health Professor Ivan Browne said: "While the risk of transmission at an outdoor event is much lower than in an indoor space, the virus can easily be passed on when people are close together.

“That’s why we’re asking people to take a quick lateral flow test before attending our switch-on event, just to make sure they’re not carrying the virus without realising it.

“To further reduce the risk of transmission, we’re also asking anyone with any cold or flu-like symptoms to stay at home and not mix with others – even if they’ve had a negative rapid COVID test.

“Wearing a face covering whenever you’re in a crowded space – whether that’s indoors or outdoors – is a really good idea, and don’t forget that regular hand-washing is an important part of your COVID-19 defences.

“The best thing you can do to protect yourself and others is to make sure that you’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19, so please get your jabs, if you haven’t already done so.

“It’s especially important for people over 40, or those with health conditions that make them more vulnerable, to get the booster jab as soon as they are eligible. This will make sure they are fully protected throughout the winter period when it is much easier for the virus to spread."

Free home testing kits will be available in Green Dragon Square from 3pm on switch-on night (Thursday 18 November) from the yellow council van. Free tests are also available from pharmacies and from the rapid testing centre at Fosse neighbourhood centre. 

More information about Christmas in Leicester is available at

Leicester City Council is grateful for the support of its sponsors this Christmas:

Octopus Energy • Goldsmiths • CityFibre • Gem




Christmas in Leicester 2021

‘£’ denotes a charge applies or a ticket is required:


13 Nov–end Nov: ‘Happy Wheel’ in Jubilee Square (£). Open 7 days a week: 12pm-8pm weekdays; 12pm-10pm weekends.

13 Nov–20 Feb: The Snowman and The Snowdog: Exhibition at Newarke Houses Museum

18 November: Switch-on of Leicester’s Christmas Lights: entertainment from 5pm; lights go on at 6.30pm

18 Nov-2 Jan: Town Hall Square:

  • Traditional nativity scene and the story of Christmas
  • Christmas tableau and Interactive Adventure, featuring an augmented reality experience for children

18 Nov: Festive films in Green Dragon Square. 5pm: The Snowman; 5.45pm: The Snowman and The Snowdog; 6.40pm: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

18 Nov: Hot food, hot drinks and sweet treats in Green Dragon Square (£)

18 Nov–2 Jan: Billy Bates’ Festive Funfair on Humberstone Gate (£)

18 Nov–5 Jan: BID Leicester presents Rhizome in Orton Square

18 Nov: Let it snow at Highcross

19 Nov: Festive films in Green Dragon Square. 5pm: The Snowman; 5.30pm: The Snowman and The Snowdog; 6pm: Frozen

20 Nov: Festive films in Green Dragon Square. 5pm: The Snowman; 5.30pm: The Snowman and The Snowdog; 6pm: Home Alone

End Nov- 2 Jan: Wheel of Light in Jubilee Square (£)

27-28 November: Christmas Craft Fair at the Guildhall (£)

27 Nov: Festive film in Green Dragon Square at 5pm: Christopher Robin

2 Dec–3 Jan: Christmas ice rink in Jubilee Square (£)

4–23 Dec: Santa in the Square (Green Dragon Square)

4 Dec: Festive film in Green Dragon Square at 5pm: The Polar Express

4-5 Dec: Christmas Craft Weekend at Newarke Houses Museum (£)

5-24 Dec: Let it Snow at Highcross

11 Dec: Frosty Fun Day at the Guildhall (£)

11 Dec: Festive film in Green Dragon Square at 5pm: Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

11-12 Dec: Christmas Craft Weekend at Newarke Houses Museum (£)

12 Dec: The Muppet Christmas Carol at the Guildhall (£)

12 Dec: Magical Christmas Film Shorts at the Guildhall (£)

12 Dec: It’s a Wonderful Life at the Guildhall (£)

15 Dec: Two Ghost Stories by MR James at the Guildhall (£)

18 Dec: Festive film in Green Dragon Square at 5pm: The Santa Clause

18-19 Dec: Christmas Craft Weekend at Newarke Houses Museum (£)

23 Dec: A Christmas Carol with Gerald Dickens. The Guildhall (£)



Christmas Park & Ride services

Switch-on night: Thursday 18 November: Services to and from Enderby and Birstall have been extended on Thursday 18 November. The last buses returning to Enderby and Birstall will leave the city centre at 9pm. The last bus to Meynell’s Gorse will run at 7pm as normal.

December: Park & Ride services will operate every day in December, apart from Christmas Day. The extra services will be running every Sunday in December, including Boxing Day. On those Sundays (December 5, 12, 19 and 26), buses will be running every 15 minutes between 10am and 5.30pm from the sites at Meynell’s Gorse, Enderby and Birstall.

The services on Monday 27 and Tuesday 28 December will also be running from 10am to 5.30pm, with the 7am-7pm buses resuming on Wednesday 29 December.


Christmas shows:

1-31 Dec: The Smeds and The Smoos at Curve (£)

3-31 Dec: A Chorus Line at Curve (£)

4 Dec: Christmas Music by Candlelight at Curve (£)

4 & 8 Dec: Christmas with André – stage on screen at the Phoenix (£)

10-11 Dec: Santa’s Best Ever Christmas at the Y Theatre (£)

10 Dec – 2 Jan: Cinderella at the Little Theatre (£)

11 Dec–3 Jan: Sleeping Beauty at De Montfort Hall (£)

19 Dec: Adam Kay: Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas at Curve (£)

19 Dec: Bolshoi Ballet: The Nutcracker – stage on screen at the Phoenix (£)