The annual Diwali celebrations in Northampton will be going virtual for its 20th year in November because of the coronavirus pandemic, the organisers have announced.
The Festival of Lights will not be taking over the Market Square with a puppet-led parade, performances and lights switch-on ceremony for the first time since 1989.
Instead, the Indian Hindu Welfare Organisation and Northampton Borough Council will be taking the festivities online on November 7, including the puppet parade.
Diwali Lights programme manager Neelam Aggarwal-Singh said: “I think it will be an amazing occasion.
“Of course it’s a shame, we have come a long way from adopting a Christmas tree 20 years ago to celebrate Diwali and now we’ve become such a big, major event in this town.
“We include schools in getting lanterns for the parade so it’s unfortunate we won’t be able to do that but hopefully next year will be even bigger and better.
“But we’re still looking forward to celebrating Diwali in a virtual way.”
The Diwali festival usually starts with information stalls and delicious food being served in Market Square in the morning, with henna painting, Karom board game and sari dressing, performances, music and stage entertainment in the afternoon.
In the evening, thousands of people line the streets for the lantern and puppet parade before Market Square is filled with revellers to watch the lights switch-on.
Neelam said Northampton’s celebrations attracts people from across the country with many considering it the second-biggest in the UK, behind only Leicester.
“It’s about bringing the people and communities together, that’s at the heart of our organisation, whether it’s through schools or community groups, we are very committed to bringing people together,” she said.
A celebrity appearance and more was planned for the 20th anniversary switch-on but Covid-19 has meant the festivities cannot go ahead – so the organisers are taking it to Facebook instead.
The full schedule is yet to be finalised but the event will start from 5pm with a virtual parade from 6pm as well as speeches from dignitaries and highlights from previous years.
Council cabinet member for community engagement and safety Anna King said: “The town’s Diwali celebrations are always a popular occasion, with families flocking into the town to enjoy the entertainment and see the lantern procession.
“Whilst public gatherings are no longer possible, and we are all discovering a new normal – we are delighted to put together a digital celebration of Diwali for audiences to enjoy and experience in the safety and comfort of their own homes.
“We’re really excited for the virtual Diwali festival and cannot wait to share with you the programme, please keep an eye on our social media as we will be releasing more information in the coming weeks.”