Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

Wood you believe it?

Ballymena's Christmas tree is already up. Is it too early?

No, your eyes aren't deceiving you... it's a Christmas tree in the middle of October.

The 20-foot tree was erected this week in Ballymena town square to allow it to be fully decorated ahead of its lighting up ceremony on November 1.

The earlier-than-usual switch- on has been prompted by calls from Ballymena's traders to create a pleasant atmosphere and avoid clashing with other hugely popular Christmas events in the town centre.

"Historically we did the switch on in conjunction with the Tower Shopping Centre reindeer parade, but the combined event has become so popular that we're a victim of our own success and have had to split the two, " town centre manager Colin Neill said.

"People do comment that Christmas is becoming very commercial. There is the spiritual side to it which is a very important part, but there is the commercial element too and shopping is a very big part of Christmas.

"This is trying to ensure the festive, bright atmosphere is here during that period. We're putting (the lights) on because people are coming in sooner, rather than the other way round.

"The people are here already doing Christmas shopping. They're not going to come because we turned the lights on, we're turning the lights on because they're here."

Shoppers in Ballymena town centre yesterday seemed relatively nonplussed by the appearance of the tree amidst shops still selling Halloween masks and costumes, although many did say they felt it was too early to be celebrating Christmas.

"It wouldn't be my idea at this time of year," Janice Kernohan said. "I don't think it was this early last year, it's getting earlier every year."

Shopper Valerie McGurk from Belfast said the arrival of the tree was " ridiculous" and that Christmas was becoming too commercialised.

"Even in Tesco's a few weeks ago they had Christmas cards and selection boxes," she said.

Her daughter Nikki McGookin agreed that the festive season did seem to be arriving sooner than anticipated.

"It's just too early," she said.

"Halloween hasn't even come yet and they've got Christmas stuff up already."

However, another daughter, Paula McGurk, said she welcomed the new tree. " I love to see everything out," she said. "I think it gets everybody into the spirit, especially for the kids."

Pensioner Margaret Hastings-White said it helped to bring people into town, but added she thought it was too early for a tree to be put up.

"One thing just runs into another, Halloween's not even here yet," she said.

However, Nan McCullough from Ahoghill said she did not think it was too early to see a Christmas tree in the centre of Ballymena. "The earlier the better, it gets us in the mood for Christmas," she said.

But retired Church of Ireland Rector Kenneth Ruddock described the switching on of the tree the day after Halloween as "ludicrous". He said: " The town of Ballymena is forgetting about All Saints Day. I don't fault the traders for having to make money, but not at the expense of a religious festival."

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