IT will mark the official countdown to Christmas in the city.

Southampton is set to welcome in this year’s festive fever with a spectacular Christmas lights switch-on and the annual opening of the market as well as other magical events.

Businesses and organisers across the city have urged people to clear their diaries for the major event.

Southampton’s Festival of Christmas features a host of free activities and will be officially launched by the Mayor Councillor Carol Cunio.

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Thousands of shoppers are expected to turn out to the celebrations to kick-start their Christmas shopping.

The festival’s highlight will be the lights switch-on at Marlands Shopping Centre by the mayor along with characters from the Nuffield Theatre’s Christmas panto production of A Christmas Carol. Once the city is dazzling with the display, the brand new Christmas market on Above Bar precinct complete with Bavarian huts and traders from Germany and around the world will be launched at 6.30pm. It will stay open everyday up to and including Christmas Eve.

Families can enjoy a host of free events at the city’s shopping centres.

Marlands Shopping Centre will start the fun at 4pm with a face painter, balloon modeller and a magician. Crestwood College’s steel band, Panatical will play in the entrance at Above Bar.

WestQuay will wow Christmas shoppers with a special performance from Titan the Robot at 4pm, 5.30pm and 7pm. There will also be free face painting, balloon modelling and a snow globe for festive family photos.

The city’s Christmas tree, sponsored by WestQuay, will stand against the backdrop of the Bargate where there will be singers and entertainers throughout the festive season.

The Festival of Christmas will take place on Thursday, November 18: 4pm until 8pm.