Xmas Lights

9 11 2008

We’re fast approaching the time of year when towns and villages across the land will be turning their attention to switching on their Xmas lights. Stornoway is no different and has partaken in this festive ceremony for many, many years.

Usually, a local celebrity (and occasionally a national celebrity) is invited to switch on the lights in a short ceremony involving carols, speeches and fireworks.  There are normally street-stalls, fairground rides and collection tins for local charities.

The first recorded ‘switching on’ ceremony is recorded as having taken place in 1786. In early December of that year, well known outlaw, murderer and generally nasty person Mac In Stronich became the first celebrity to turn on the Xmas lights.

However, it wasn’t so much ‘a turning on the Xmas lights ceremony’ as more a sort of ‘torching the town as an act of revenge’ event, following a disagreement over the terms of a protection racket that Mac In Stronich was running. Still, the cheery glow of a row of Stornoway’s shops being set ablaze caught the imagination of the towns-folks and they decided it would be nice to have a similar event the next year, although preferably not involving so much murder and pillage.

Needless to say, Mac In Stronich was not invited, nor indeed told about, the ceremony. When he found out about the Xmas lights he took a massive huff and decided to decorate his secret hide-out in yon cave at the mouth of the Creed with his own Xmas lights. However, the bright lights were quickly spotted by the authorities and Mac In Stronich was swiftly apprehended.

From that year onwards, the Xmas Lights Ceremony has become an important part of Stornoway’s social and civic calender. Only twice more did the ceremony result in the accidental burning down of the town, once in 1812 when a holiday making (and incognito) Napoleon took a strop at losing at a hoopla stall and ordered a French Man-of-War in the harbour (disguised as ‘an east coast boat’ to confuse the locals) to fire into the cauldron of rum punch outside ‘Engies Horse-Fodder Shoppe’.

The second time was in 1875 when Albert, the Prince Consort (Queen Victoria’s cove) accidentally (allegedly) knocked over an oil lamp in the Star Inn during a game of domino’s, which set off the Xmas fireworks whilst they were still in their boxes under the bar.

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