Traders, children, the local radio station presenters, customers and visitors all agreed - Friday’s late night shopping in Uckfield was the town’s best-ever.
Over the weekend, an amazing 6,300 people (a thousand up on last year) called into Holy Cross Church to admire 80 Christmas trees awash with baubles, tinsel and stunningly original decorations. There were themes connected to pantomime, the theatre, celestial stars, Disney and even an unusual interpretation of ‘more tea vicar.’ Children from many local primary schools had contributed their own trees and there was a moving Memorial tree set to connect people with those who will not be joining them for Christmas celebrations this year.
Mike Skinner from UckfieldFM said: “It was a brilliant idea to hold the Christmas Tree Festival at the same time as the shopping evening - the two are complementary. Uckfield is a wonderful community minded town and everybody pulls together for an event like this.”
This year’s shopping celebration ran from Friday night into Saturday. The radio station hosted a sound stage featuring children from nine primary schools singing carols and Christmas songs including Chiddingly for the first time. That section of the High Street was lined with friends, teachers and family members, lots of whom downloaded their children’s performances to watch again at home.
People who attended said how pleased they were to have the festival extended to an extra day on Saturday, particularly commuters whose homeward journey makes it too difficult to visit shops on Friday night.
Proving how important Uckfield is to ‘the top people,’ Father Christmas took time out from his busy preparations to talk to youngsters in Olives Yard, helped by Uckfield Lions.
In the true spirit of Christmas, King’s Church staged a live nativity in Elizabeth Gardens. Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus were accompanied by friendly donkey Spice, cared for during the evening with Damien Cunningham from Sussex Horse Rescue.
Spirit Elite put on a sparkling performance close to Bridge Cottage and hungry shoppers were well pleased to find Alan Vaughan of Bishops the Butchers had provided a succulent pig for the hog roast. The money raised by this, plus the Late Night Shopping Magazine go to support the event itself and also the Christmas lights display which enhance the appearance of the town as they glitter along the High Street.
The Uckfield Chamber of Commerce is grateful to Martin Corwall of Specialist Driving Force for providing the sound stage, CJ Thorne, Uckfield FM and all those who supported and organised the entire weekend.
There were costumes galore, mince pies and mulled wine to tempt shoppers to pull out the plastic. Store windows were decorated overall and trade was brisk. Some lucky dogs mimicked their owners and brought out their Christmas jumpers to celebrate the evening.
Mike Skinner went on: “We were just so lucky. Given the dreadful weather we’ve had, it stayed dry and while the Saturday was windy, at least there was no rain. I think this will run for two days again next year.”
Firefighters demonstrated a few of the season’s potential mishaps by proving that it is not a good idea to chuck cold water over a chip pan fire. Get out of the house, they said, and dial 999.
All in all it was agreed this was a night to remember.
Shopkeepers reported bumper sales of all merchandise particularly furnishings, gifts, clothing, books, accessories and, of course, wrappings and decorations.
But possibly top billing should go the town itself which really goes all out to bring Christmas home to Sussex in a way which supports the need for traders to boost their winter sales but also respect the true spirit of the holiday.
Youngsters in Holy Cross Church agreed, as did their parents who enjoyed delicious refreshments provided through the three days of the Festival.
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