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Quietly, the Christmas lights switch on

Johnny Bugeja

In a small and quiet event, John Bossino from St Martin’s School pressed the big button switching on the Christmas lights stretching the length of Main Street.

This year’s switching on of the Christmas lights was heavily scaled back, with just the Minister for Culture, Dr John Cortes, young John and his family, Gibraltar Cultural Services CEO Seamus Byrne, and a handful of press in attendance.

Standing by the Piazza in a relatively empty Main Street, John switched on the lights to cheers and applause, with some passers-by stopping to watch the display.

John was joined by his dad and GSD MP Damon Bossino, his mum Rosa, and two siblings, who then moved on to switch on the lights of the large Christmas tree on display in John Mackintosh Square.

The event served as a stark reminder of how much Covid-19 has changed the way people can gather and host events.

Last year’s Festival of Lights saw a packed Casemates Square, with crowds donning Santa hats, firmly marking the beginning of the Christmas season.

In recent years the Festival of Lights, organised by Gibraltar Cultural Services, has seen live video presentations, dance and choir performances and the opening of Santa’s Grotto.

But to curb the spread of Covid-19, there was no Santa, no performances, and no video display.

Instead a video ‘The Spirit of Christmas’, featuring a pre-recorded performance was broadcast on GBC and on the GCS Facebook page.

“It felt very lonely here,” Dr Cortes told the Chronicle after the switch on.

He added the event felt “strange” but stressed the need for these precautions and the importance of adhering to public health guidance.

“It is important that we keep on doing these things in a different kind of way because, next year, we will be back in strength,” he said.

“I am very confident the community will be there. We are working very hard to keep culture alive. It’s sad, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”