Burnley Christmas lights switch-on 2011: PHOTO SPECIAL

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HUNDREDS of people descended on the town centre for Burnley’s big Christmas lights switch-on.

Children, families and people of all ages packed St James’s Street on Sunday to see the festive season begin with a bang.

It's My Party provide the music and dance at the Christmas light switch on.

It's My Party provide the music and dance at the Christmas light switch on.

A stunning fireworks display illuminated the night sky on a magical evening when Father Christmas led the countdown.

A huge cheer went up as thousands of twinkling lights burst into life and brought Christmas to Burnley.

But the biggest shout of the night was for the hero of the hour – Fireman Sam – who was the celebrity guest at the switch-on celebration.

The children’s TV cartoon character had earlier been meeting youngsters from the town but made an appearance on stage for the crowds who had braved the cold.

On a fun-filled afternoon, families were treated to attractions including bouncy castles, a climbing wall, fairground rides and a host of other stalls.

The stage show, hosted by 2BR radio presenters, was a hit and had people young and old dancing, clapping and singing.

Finalists from Burnley’s Got Talent were welcomed on stage before young songstress Grace O’Malley wowed the crowds with her unique voice.

Duo Beth & Lizzy put a twist on the Adele anthem “Someone Like You” before finishing with the Christmas classic “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.”

As the sun went down and temperatures dropped, Unity School of Song warmed things up with festive favourite “Merry Christmas Everybody” by Slade.

Helen James had the crowd going GaGa before the East Lancashire School of Dance brought a Celtic flavour to the show with Irish dancing.

Singer Nicole Talmer performed her new single as well as a haunting version of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love”.

Burnley’s own Sally Jaxx had the masses fired up with some dance anthems including “Rhythm is a Dancer” which was followed by “It’s My Party”, who paved the way for the big switch-on with an extravagant finale.

Gareth Shanks, of Burnley, who was there with his family and friends, enjoyed the show. “Everyone has had a really great time,” he said.

“The highlight of the show was the fireworks. It is the first time I have been, but I will definitely be coming again.”

Rachel Sutherland, of Brunshaw, said: “I came with my son Charlie to see Fireman Sam. The light switch-on was good.

“It has made me feel Christmassy.”

The switch-on marks the start of Christmas late-night shopping in Burnley, with many shops now staying open until 8 p.m. every Thursday in the run up to Christmas