CHILDREN will launch the 21st Henley Christmas Festival next Friday.
The late-night shopping event will begin with a “torchlight” parade involving more than 80 youngsters carrying glow-in-the-dark balloons.
From 4.45pm Hart Street and the Market Place will be closed to traffic as will Duke Street and Friday Street to the junction with Queen Street and Bell Street to the junction with New Street. All roads will re-open at 9.30pm.
A town crier will declare the event officially open at 5.30pm.
There will be about 50 stalls in the town centre, where most of the town’s schools and charities will be represented.
At 5.40pm the children will make their way from Hotel du Vin in New Street, along Church Avenue and into Hart Street and on to Market Place to be welcomed by Mayor Elizabeth Hodgkin.
A 40ft Norway spruce Christmas tree in Falaise Square will be lit at 7pm by Cllr Hodgkin and the winner of the Mayor’s competition to design her Christmas card, which is supported by the Standard.
They will be accompanied by a representative from Invesco Perpetual, which sponsors the tree.The Mayor will then lead the crowds in singing carols, accompanied by a Salvation Army band.
Most of the shops will remain open for Christmas shopping and many will be handing out mince pies and mulled wine.
There will be fairground rides as well as a fire engine for children to explore.
Cinderella, star of this year’s panto at the Kenton Theatre, will be in her carriage to meet children and pose for photos dressed in her finery, including her slippers. Her co-star Buttons will join the fun.
Santa’s grotto in the King’s Arms Barn will be open at 6pm and, for the first time, families can also visit on the following day, from 10.30am to 1.30pm. Also new this year are Christmas lights in Bell Street and Duke Street which cost the town council £5,000.
Another addition will be a “flash mob” which has been organised by Angela Sung, of the Bucaroo boutique in Friday Street.
It will take place in three separate locations on the night and include both children and adults dancing.
The Mayor said she hoped this year’s festival — the 21st — would be the biggest and best yet.
She said: “Christmas is all about children and we hope that as many youngsters as possible will join in the procession. It should be quite a spectacle.”
Peter McConnell, the town centre manager, said: “This is a fantastic start to the Christmas festivities, encouraging people to shop locally and enjoy everything that Henley has to offer while eating mince pies and drinking mulled wine.”
The Christmas atmosphere will continue throughout the weekend. On Saturday, December 1, the second Living Advent Calendar will begin. Each evening until Christmas Eve, a different venue will host a performance by singers, dancers and other acts.
The calendar is in aid of three local charities, the Sue Ryder hospice at Nettlebed, Camp Mohawk, near Wargrave and the Chiltern Centre for disabled children in Henley. It is a joint initiative between the Henley Partnership and Henley Town Council and is sponsored by the Standard as well as Invesco Perpetual, the Head Partnership, Sotheby’s International Realty, Towergate Insurance and South Oxfordshire District Council. On Sunday, December 2 Santa on the Run returns for a second year. It is hoped dozens of people will turn out for the fancy dress race, which starts and finishes at the River and Rowing Museum.
Competitors can run, jog or walk the two-mile off-road route and dogs can also take part. Each participant will be provided with a Santa hat and there will be prizes for the best-dressed family, team, adult and under 10 and for the fastest child under 14.
Tickets cost £14 for a family of four (two adults and two children), £6 for adults and £4 for children under 10.
All the money raised will be donated to the Mayor’s charities, the Henley Youth Centre, the Over 60s club and Camp Mohawk.