It's time to cut the power to ubiquitous and overrated light festivals

·2-min read
Durham cathedral christmas lights - Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
Durham cathedral christmas lights - Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

Chester unveiled another of those winter light-art installations last week – the Roving Moon. It’s supposed to make an artistic, crescent-shaped statement about our existential struggle amid winter darkness. Locals have dubbed it “the giant banana”.

Chester isn’t the only place jumping on the bandwagon. It’s hard to enjoy a festive city break without tripping over a lantern parade or a cynical attempt to cash in with a string of LEDs and a sack of souvenir tat. Do we need yet another light festival? No. It’s time to pull the plug.

In Durham, I caught the first evening of Lumiere, the city’s biennial light-art festival. I quite liked the son et lumière projected onto the facade of Durham Cathedral but the giant desk lamps, by French art collective TILT, weren’t quite as electric.

Light festivals are a great way for destinations to extend their visitor season, plugging the tumbleweed gap between Hallowe’en and Christmas. But do I really want to drive to Warrington to visit Luminate? Or traipse down to Lightopia at Crystal Palace Park, hosted by Myleene Klass? No thanks.

I’m no Christmas Grinch but why would anyone want to stand in the freezing cold, paying a fiver for a lukewarm hot chocolate and fending off kids wielding plastic lightsabers, while contemplating a thought-provoking tribute to Peppa Pig World as the new United Nations?

The light festival is nothing new, of course. Lyon came up with the bright idea in 1999 and its Fête des Lumières is a major attraction (it ran from Dec 8 until today this year). But it has a real sense of history: the Lyonnais first placed lighted candles in their homes, praying to the Virgin Mary to save the city from plague, in the Middle Ages. Blackpool’s illuminations, too, have a long history of providing “electric sunshine”, brightening up Lancastrian nights since 1879. Its extended season this year runs until Jan 3 with tributes to NHS key workers projected onto the spindly Blackpool Tower.

But I’ve had enough of light festival overkill. So, as we approach the shortest day of the year on Dec 21, I plan to embrace the darkness. I’ll be home with a hot water bottle and a glass of single malt, happy in the knowledge that the days are getting longer from tomorrow. Besides, it’s winter – it’s supposed to be dark.

Is it time to pull the plug on light festivals? Let us know in the comments section below

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