Christmas countdown begins as Belfast City Hall tree prepares to light up
The lights of Belfast's City Hall Christmas tree are to be switched on this weekend - signalling the official beginning of the festive season.
The towering 16m high tree was moved into its traditional position yesterday ahead of Saturday's family fun switching-on ceremony.
Flicking the switch at this year's festivities will be children's favourites Postman Pat and Fireman Sam alongside TV presenter Justin Fletcher, star of CBeebies' Justin's House and Something Special.
Lord Mayor Niall O Donnghaile yesterday announced details of this year's Christmas programme as the tree - a Norway spruce from Augher, Co Tyrone - was carefully installed.
The tree will be covered in more than 7,000 lights ahead of the ceremony which begins at 6pm.
"The switching on of the Christmas lights is always a great night for all the family, and this year promises to be just that little bit special, especially with the event once again taking place on a Saturday evening," Mr O Donnghaile said.
"I am particularly delighted that this year we will be joined by some of the biggest names in children's television. Christmas is an exciting time for children, and our line-up is sure to delight youngsters as they see their favourite characters perform live in Belfast, and for free," he added.
Justin, energetic star of the children's programmes Gigglebiz and The Tweenies, said: "I am very much looking forward to coming to Belfast to help switch on the lights."
He also promised a lot of singing and dancing. And the city's longest serving pantomime dame, May McFettridge, along with Cool FM's Pete Snodden, will compere the event.
The crowd will be entertained during the hour-long event as Postman Pat and Fireman Sam will be performing 'mini shows'.
Mr Snodden said the switching on of the lights is the signal "that Christmas is officially here".
"I'm looking forward to being a part of this special moment. It's like being a kid again, but then, I'm just a big kid anyway."
Also joining in the big switch on is panto dame May - who celebrates her 22nd consecutive year on the stage of the Grand Opera House next month.
Other highlights of Belfast City Council's Christmas programme include the popular Continental Christmas Market.
Based in the grounds of City Hall, it opens at noon this Saturday and will run until Monday, December 19.
Dozens of food and craft stalls from all over Europe will be open for people to enjoy in the run-up to Christmas. And it has its own Santa's Grotto.
The Christmas Fair and Market at St George's Market will also run from December 2-4.
- Approximately 7,200 lights will cover the Christmas tree at Belfast City Hall - 36 garlands with 200 lights each - this is exactly half the number that are on the tree in Times Square, New York.
- A crew of five-including a crane operator- put the tree up in the grounds of City Hall.
- £130,000 is the overall cost for the Christmas campaign
- The tree is 53ft 6ins tall
- The Norway spruce weighs 3.5 tonnes.
- It was brought 56 miles from Augher, Co Tyrone, to Belfast.