Dazzlingly decorated doorways, a magical climbing beanstalk and the county’s largest festive market are just some highlights of Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce’s Christmas Countdown.
The celebrations will start with late night shopping on 3rd December. Chamber Chairman David Perry says that his team has been busy arranging an exciting event, inspired by a classic pantomime.
“We’re planning a stunt!” said David. “A giant beanstalk will crawl up the front of the Town Hall. All of the leaves will be painted by local schoolchildren, so they can come and watch it rise and see whether they can spot their own leaf.” David says the display should not be missed. “The beanstalk will climb up and there will be lots of lights, smoke and some theatre.”
Chamber volunteers will be contacting teaching and school staff, so they can encourage youngsters to take part. “We will send them a leaf template so all of the leaves will be roughly the shape. They can be covered in glitter, they can be green or bright red. The more leaves we get, the jollier it will be,” said David.
Last year, the Chamber decided to focus the event on entertaining children and families, rather than bringing in a ‘name’ to switch the festive lights on. “It’s not about gawping at a celebrity. It’s about shopping and having a lovely festive time. It’s when Christmas wakes up in Shaftesbury,” said David.
Santa has confirmed his appearance and all youngsters who visit him will be given a gift. “He will go and sit in his grotto, which will be inside the Town Hall. And there will be free presents for all children,” said David.
Traditional elements of the evening include carol singing and the Shaftesbury Town Band performing festive favourites. The crowd will be encouraged to lead the countdown to the Christmas lights switch on. Then, Shaftesbury close harmony trio Belle Street will sing a seasonal set-list from the Town Hall balcony, as everyone takes in the spectacle of lights on the trees and along the High Street.
There’s another new attraction for 2018. Chamber of Commerce Executive Member Virginia Edwyn Jones has devised a competition that should add additional seasonal sparkle to Shaftesbury’s streets. “What we want to do this year is to encourage all the shops to enter a door dressing competition,” said David. “It is something that has been catching on all over the country. We want all the shops to put up a big festive display on their front door. You can make it as elaborate or simple as you want but the important thing is, as people walk along the street, the shops should look fantastic, inviting and shout, ‘It’s Christmas’.”
David hopes that all shops will take part for the chance to win a magnum of champagne from Shaftesbury Wines. “It’s not so much about winning, it’s about joining in. The more people that take part the more fantastic and festive the town will look.”
Judges will decide on the best doorway display on the night. “We want all the doors dressed by 3pm on Monday, 3rd December. Then the road will be closed at 4pm and the festivities start at 6pm. They will continue until about 8.30pm”
If you’re wondering why Shaftesbury’s late night shopping is held on a Monday, David says it’s partially down to tradition and to avoid being in competition with neighbouring towns. “We changed it to a Friday because the date fell awkwardly one-year, but then we realised that it clashed with every single town from here down to Exeter. Monday isn’t the busiest day of the week so anything we can do to enhance a Monday is great. Friday is busy so it doesn’t need enhancing.”
The final event in the Chamber’s Christmas calendar will be the massive Christmas market on Sunday, 16th December. “It is possibly the biggest festive street market in the whole of the county. It will stretch from Angel Lane to The Commons, outside the Grosvenor Arms Hotel. It will fill the town with festive cheer.”
French traders are expected to be amongst approximately 100 stalls booked in for this shopping extravaganza. As part of the event, at 1pm, the Churches Together group will perform the nativity story outside The Town Hall.
Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce has arranged free car parking in the town centre car parks on the Saturdays leading up to Christmas. Although you won’t need to buy a ticket, the rules governing the time that you can remain in a space will still be enforced. If you are planning to spend your entire day shopping in Shaftesbury on those December Saturdays, you may need to move your vehicle.