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Step back in time: Christmas light displays in Aberdeen over the decades

A seasonal scene from 1982 showing the Union Street illuminations looking towards the Town House.

It’s the most wonderful time of year – shops are bursting with festive fare, the nights are drawing in and Aberdeen is shining with Christmas lights.

Barely past Bonfire Night, many would argue that mid-November is still too early for the festive season to begin.

But in Aberdeen it’s already in full swing with the Christmas tree standing tall at Castlegate and the Christmas Village bustling on Upperkirkgate.

It is hoped the dazzling displays will bring some much-needed Christmas spirit to the city centre following another year of cancelled activities due to Covid.

Join us on a sparkling step back in time looking back at Aberdeen’s illuminations of yesteryear.

This pretty scene shows Union Terrace Gardens under a blanket of snow in December 1961 with Union Bridge in the background.

The gardens were the perfect backdrop for strings of festoon lighting strung between lampposts and clusters of glowing Christmas trees on the lawn.

On the left are the backs of the buildings on Belmont Street, and the Trinity Centre – which wasn’t built until 1984 – is noticeably absent from the streetscape above.

In recent years Union Terrace Gardens hasn’t been the focal point of the city’s festivities, but it has hosted the Spectra festival of light.

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer lead the way during the Aberdeen Christmas lights switch-on parade on December 4 1965.

It was a colourful affair with crowds lining the pavements of Union Street to catch a glimpse during the hour-long parade of 50 festive floats.

Lord Provost Norman Hogg said of the occasion: “Christmas is a time we should do our best to make the city bright and provide something for the young people.”

It was the second outing for the city’s ‘new’ Christmas lights which were second-hand ones from Regent Street in London acquired the previous year.

Aberdeen Scouts’ giant Christmas cracker stole the show during the lights switch-on ceremony on November 24 1966.

It dwarved the crowd of onlookers during the Christmas cavalcade as it made its way under the Union Street illuminations.

The following week, “savage gales” caused damage to the £11,000 lights, one set of which “dropped to bus-top level” much to the dismay of the city lighting department staff tasked with repairing them.

The Christmas lights at the Northern Co-op on Loch Street were always a beautiful sight to behold and a real feature of Christmas in Aberdeen in the 1960s.

In 1966, the theme of the lighting displays was ‘Alice in Christmas Wonderland’ with the hexagonal lights depicting imagery of Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole and chasing the White Rabbit.

There was lots of festive fun to be had at the big switch-on, with late-night shopping and Christmas Carols from the Bon Accord Silver Band to entertain shoppers.

Tinsmith Herbert Slater and storeman Bob Noble inspected Aberdeen’s Christmas lights at the city’s lighting department on Constitution Street ahead of installation in 1975.

Parts of the installations had been damaged by weather the previous year and it was feared the display may not go ahead due to a reorganisation of local government departments.

However, lighting department employees worked around the clock to service and repair lights to save Christmas after the damaged displays had been overlooked in budgets that year.

Little Alison from Westerton Primary School had the honour of switching on the city’s illuminations alongside Lord Provost William Fraser in December 1978.

The £7,000 lights adorned Union Street and George Street and brought much-needed jollity to the crowds who braved wet weather to watch the display come to life.

Angus Bain, the council’s director of lighting, said “the switch-on had gone very well despite the poor weather conditions”.

The Christmas lights shine bright above a busy Union Street here in 1978, but they again bore the brunt of a wintry weather front.

Pedestrians had to dodge fragments of shattering decorations during a stormy night, but the gales didn’t shatter the Christmas spirit.

Well-versed in inclement conditions, the decorations since 1973 had been designed by the council lighting department to withstand harsh weather.

Jill Hird, 6, of Dyce, joined Lord Provost Henry Rae in the hot-seat switching on Aberdeen’s illuminations in 1984.

It was a proud moment for the delighted Kingslea Primary schoolgirl who was joined by mum Linda and big sister Alison on the balcony of the Town House.

With the flick of a switch Jill lit-up 11 sets of lights on Union Street, three on Rose Street, three on Chapel Street, two on George Street and the Christmas trees of St Nicholas Churchyard and Langstane Kirk.

Lady provost Margaret Rae presented Jill with a necklace and a tin of sweets to share with her classmates.

Union Street looked resplendent, bathed in light from the Christmas lights in this cheerful, seasonal scene from 1987.

The leading light in the city’s pantomime that year – singer Fiona Kennedy who was starring as Cinderella – joined Camphill pupil Brian Gemmell for the switch-on.

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