The Pilgrimage of Lights: A Spiritual Journey
The lengthy nights of summer have quite suddenly drawn in so that its completely dark by 7pm making it feel like it’s at least 10pm and Halloween has come and gone unbelievably fast! I’ve noticed something that’s evaded my thought processes up until now; that the elaborate outdoor Halloween House Decorations are in fact, the warm up round, so to speak, of the incredibly joyful and festive people that live and work in Bilston.
We should be grateful for such individuals because they are the guardians of the Christmas spirit, little by little the actions of one light “jockey” can (and will) inspire others and before you know it, the night sky becomes ablaze with brilliant beams of artificial starlight. We collectively illuminate our surroundings and it shows: peace and goodwill to all!
So, is it, in your opinion, safe to say that the season of goodwill is finally upon us?
For me, the answer is a resounding yes! Christmas is finally here, and Santa Claus is definitely coming to town!
So why am I so sure of this? What is it that gives me this strong sense of Christmas spirit? And why now?
Every year, society up and down this great isle of ours seems to debate the age-old question “when does the Christmas Season officially begin?” What event or activity during that twilight month of transition better known as November marks the start of the Christmas Season in your town, city, or county?
When does your town deem it socially acceptable to officially begin celebrating Christmas? When does your high street turn on the Christmas lights? Is it a big occasion or is it demurer? Or perhaps you enjoy other community gatherings to mark the start of “yule”.
I’ve been living in the West Midlands since 2020 and I love it but I grew up in the West Country, and for as far back as I can remember, every year I would go and watch the carnival with my mum or dad or siblings or friends and that marked the start of Christmas.
Those magical technicolour beams of light that reach towards the heavens, tunnelling into the black skies of the wintry abyss not only illuminated the skies, there synthesized stars of light (aka lightbulbs) also illuminated my face; the heat from their electrical circuits warmed and illuminated my Christmas spirit.
If you want to take part in the Christmas Pilgrimage of Lights, you must visit the West Country.
The Somerset County Guy Fawkes Carnival is an annual celebration featuring a parade of large illuminated floats (or carts).
The carnival of Light starts in Bridgewater and tours the county, making stops in North Petherton, Burnham-on-Sea, Glastonbury, Wells, Shepton Mallet, and Weston-super-Mare, forming a regional festival.
It’s fantastic! And so, I find myself travelling from the Black Country to visit family and friends in my hometown of Weston-super-Mare, North Somerset. Tonight, I’m going to watch the Carnival!
Its always been one of my favourite events of the year, and to me, it’s synonymous with Christmas. I arrive in Bristol at 2pm after a pleasant enough 2-hour coach journey from Birmingham to Bristol and a 20-minute train ride from Bristol Temple Meads to Weston.
As I get to Weston, its hard to believe that in just a few hours, this apparently deserted seaside town, will burst to life as throngs of people line the streets, to watch the procession of floats that light up the night sky in kaleidoscopic flashes of every colour known to man.
The floats will each have a theme as they compete against one another in the colourful competition. If you want to be wowed then Somerset’s carnival is the place to be. Food stalls fill the air with the smoky undertones of burgers, onions, kebabs and hotdogs, but every now and then, the sweet smells of doughnuts and candyfloss punctuate the air.
I’m not an amateur and I know that this apparently deserted seaside town will come alive as the evening progresses. Some people, like my friends and I, get to town at 5pm so we can get out our deckchairs so we don’t have to stand up; after all, the show is 2 hours long, starting at 7pm and finishing at 9pm.
My friends and I are fully prepared for the 2 hour wait we have to endure if we want to secure a great spot at the front of the jam packed pavements that will soon overflow with roughly assembled “rows” of people as every resident braves the weather, wrapping themselves and their families in thick hooded (& if your smart, waterproof ) coats to ward off the cold biting winds or dismal downpours of thick heavy rain … hats and gloves are a must, especially for children, and it’s a place where earmuffs can be worn either as a fashion statement or for more practical purposes. The music from the floats is extremely loud.
As the parade starts, people begin to cheer and clap and gasps of astonishment litter the air as onlookers are genuinely amazed by the assortment of different themes. There is something for everyone. Christmas has arrived in the West Country in a supernova of splendour.
Full of Christmas cheer, I make my way home and arrive back in Bilston, Wolverhampton on Sunday evening. I decide to research Christmas events in my area and I’m overwhelmed with the numerous events and activities. There are wreath-making classes, Santa’s Grottos, and Bilston’s very own light display.
The town is gearing up for the annual turning on of the Christmas Lights. It promises to be a grand occasion. This event occurs on the 22nd of November and it is my next destination on my pilgrimage of light.
Another destination I’m hoping to visit is Longleat. It has it’s very own Festival of Light that runs from the 5th of November 2022 until the 8th January 2023. Friends of mine highly recommend it and so, I hope to buy tickets and attend the event with my daughter during the Christmas Holidays.
Finally, Trinity Close in Burnham-on-Sea, dubbed as Britain’s most festive street are hoping to turn on their collective Christmas light display sporting 100,000 lights. Last year, in order to avoid the spread of covid-19, they discouraged visitors however, I know they are keen to reignite the town’s festive mood by putting on yet another wonderful display.