Being Modern: #45 Christmas lights


The country is aglow again. No, it's not the return of the riots. It's the turn of the Christmas lights, turning our high streets into fantasy wonderlands. And occasionally what looks like a pretty poor advert for Ryness, such is the insouciance with which twinkling bulbs are casually strung between irregularly spaced trees.

The tradition of setting an entire street aflame began on London's Regent Street in 1953, and such celebrities as Gorden Kaye, Esther Rantzen, Leslie Grantham and, this year, pop quintet the Saturdays have since turned on the illuminations in neighbouring Oxford Street, where the tradition was revived with a laser show after a decade-long lull that began in the late 1960s due to recession.

Yet this year's threat of a double-dip hasn't dampened the practice, with such luminous luminaries as Tinchy Stryder (Blackpool)and Peter Andre (Warrington) being paid to flick the switch. But what has changed is the "show" that accompanies the act.

Stryder's little finger, for instance, was supported last week by performances from in-out X Factor finalist Jonjo Kerr and local rock band Boomin', while a huge fireworks display supported X Factor winner Matt Cardle (if nothing else, reality TV does provide an endless stream of illuminating celebrities), as he energised 15 miles of lights in Leeds purely with the power of his voice. Or possibly electricity. Olly Murs (yup, another from the X Factor factory) was at it in Bristol, while 20,000 people saw Girl Aloud Nicola Roberts light up Manchester, assisted only by her new solo career and a pair of leather trousers.

The point is, they do make a song and dance about it these days. Whatever happened to the mayor being the big attraction? Even when the act isn't a household name – Voxcetera? – they easily overshadow the local bigwigs. Who, after all, were the denizens of north London turning up to see at Brent Cross shopping centre? Barnet Council's Lisa Rutter or the 12-piece choir? Neither, you say, they were just there shopping? Tsh, tsh. Don't spoil the magic of Christmas. Lights!