SHOPPERS turned out in their hundreds to see Colchester bring in the festive spirit by lighting up the town.

Mayor Theresa Higgins was joined by special guest and soap star Hayley Tamaddon for the official lights switch on.

The dazzling snowflake themed lights were accompanied by a visit from Santa, a festive performance from the Funky Voices Choir in the High Street, Headway Fayre in Culver Square, Santa’s Magical Post Office in Lion Walk, and festive activities in Sir Isaac's Walk.

As well as the decorations spanning Head Street, High Street and Crouch Street, were simultaneously turned on in Lion Walk and Culver Square on Sunday at 4.30pm.

Former Dancing on Ice winner Hayley Tamaddon was persuaded to visit the town by a friend who lives in Colchester, and was delighted to turn on the lights.

"I am so excited to be here, my friend lives in Colchester and has been trying to get me to get me to come along for so long," she said.

"I'ts a place I've heard so much about and I love Christmas so I'm glad to get involved."

There was also real festive spirit in Culver Square, where beloved characters and Christmas goods were on offer.

The Headway Christmas Fair gave visitors the chance to grab some gifts and enjoy some entertainment.

Stalls were set up and favorite animated characters were visiting to delight the children.

Organiser Jo Hockey said: “It’s been a fantastic fair – the kids were so excited to see all of the characters.

“The Minions were a huge hit and there were plenty of carol singers.

“Santa was in his grotto and we had stalls selling festive goods and crafts."

Father Christmas was on hand to open the new Christmas Post Office in Red Lion Walk.

Elves helped children decorate their own letters to be posted to Santa.

The windows were lit up in a blaze of white at the new display at Williams and Griffin on High Street, which featured polar bears, A life size George the Chimp and Santa's Grotto.

The events marked the start of an exciting festive season, with free parking and later opening times on offer in December.

Those visiting the town for Christmas shopping can now park at any of Colchester Council’s town centre car parks for free after 3pm every Wednesday in December until the big day.

Colchester's town centre shops and restaurants will be opening for late night shopping on three consecutive Wednesdays.

The first night is on 2nd December when many shops will be open until 9pm.