THOUSANDS of people gathered in the town centre on Saturday for the annual Christchurch Christmas Festival.

Cast members from the pantomime Snow White, set for the BIC this December, helped throw the switch on the town's festive lights, after thrilled youngsters met Santa and his reindeer.

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In Pictures: All our images from the Christmas Festival >>>

Christchurch Christmas Festival Committee chairman Kim Skinner said: "Father Christmas and his reindeer arrived and the children enjoyed petting the animals. They came through the town and into the Priory."

The event also included a craft fair in Christchurch Priory, a market in the High Street, live entertainment at different locations throughout the town, a children's fairground, and choirs and bands in Saxon Square.

Visitor Tracy Knight said her children were thrilled with the Christmas event.

"The town looks magical with the lights on, its a great effort in pretty miserable weather conditions," she told the Echo.

Mr Skinner added: "The council no longer supports the Christmas festival, so I took it over last year to help keep it going.

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"We had to raise all the funds, sponsorship and advertising. It costs about £15,000 to finance the whole thing, and we have to find this money through local companies and individuals."

Mr Skinner said the people of Christchurch were "very lucky", as local businesses and supporters made the festival a possibility this year.

"We also needed more than 50 people to help organise and marshal the event.

"Thank you to all the sponsors and people who make this festival work, without them we'd be stuffed. This is hard to keep going, we need support. If people want it to keep going they need to step forward to help."

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