SANTA Claus is promising traders in Sunderland they will have an extra-special Christmas.
Father Christmas joined city centre businesses to celebrate the build-up to the festive season in Sunderland, to be officially launched next month.
Sunderland Football Club boss Gus Poyet will join city mayor Bob Heron to flick the switch on its Christmas lights display, joined by stars from the Empire’s panto production this year.
The event, on Thursday, November 14, will kick off a programme of family-friendly activities and performances.
Businesses are also set to benefit, with late-night shopping teamed with a range of festive street entertainment to be held every Thursday and Saturday, starting at the Christmas Village in Market Square.
Discounted dining on Thursdays will also give shoppers an excuse to linger as they can enjoy exclusive discounts at a host of bars, cafes and restaurants.
City centre traders Harry Collinson and Steve Snowball were on hand to greet Father Christmas as he arrived in Sunderland.
Harry, who runs his family’s jewellery business, said: “First of all, we are very happy the council have a Christmas programme after all of the cuts.
“It is really important they do everything possible to offer a good-quality programme, which will encourage footfall to the city centre.
“It’s important in tough climates to support the people of Sunderland and especially the traders, to give them a chance in such an important time in retailing. It will be make or break for a lot of independents.
“This is why it’s so important we stick together – shoppers, traders and the council.”
As well as high-street shops, visitors to the city centre will also be able to browse at a series of Farmers’ Markets, with the first one taking place in Market Square on Friday, November 22. Chris Alexander, of Sunderland Live, which is organising the events, said: “This year’s Christmas programme will feature all the traditional Christmas elements including the switch-on, lighting of the city and Mowbray Park, but with additional elements designed to enhance the visitor experience in Sunderland.
“Activities have been programmed to coincide with late-night shopping in the city and the return of our discount dining scheme, Restaurant Thursdays, will ensure visitors are refuelled after a busy day’s shopping.”
Drivers using council-run car parks in the run up to Christmas will also get free parking after 3pm on Thursdays and Fridays and all day at weekends.