THOUSANDS of people gathered in Wantage and Wallingford to watch the launch of their towns' Christmas celebrations.

Wantage town mayor Steve Trinder said the Dickensian Evening on Friday attracted thousands of people to the Market Place and was one of the biggest and best to date.

He added there were 50 stalls including those selling food and drink at the Dickensian Evening, which is traditionally held on the first Friday in December.

The free community event is organised by a group of volunteers and supported by the Wantage Town Council and local sponsors and featured the switch-on of the Christmas lights at 6pm.

Mr Trinder said: "It was definitely one of the biggest and best Dickensian Evenings to date.

"It's a fantastic tradition for the town and it was started by my father Alan Trinder and Geoffrey Bailey back in the 1980s with their friends from the Chamber of Trade, so I'm very fond of it.

"The organisers, led by Debbie Lewis-Pryde and Jim Hetherington, did a superb job this year and the market place was packed with thousands of people.

"People are encouraged to dress up in period costume and there are lots of roast chestnuts for sale - the whole evening has a very festive feel.

"Shops in the town stay open late and there is a best dressed shop window competition.

"Lots of market towns stage events to switch on their Christmas lights but Wantage does something a bit different."

Roads around the market place were closed while the evening, which ran from 6pm to 9pm, was being staged.

In recent years the evening has attracted various charity and commercial stalls, and community groups featuring their work.

Musical entertainment was provided by Wantage Silver Band, Hendred Handbell Ringers and Icknield Way Morris Men.

Mr Trinder added: "It was a good night for businesses in the area - the pubs were heaving and St Peter and Paul church sold all its Christmas goods.

"The Chamber of Commerce does a great job organising and supporting the event."

In Wallingford, hundreds of Santa lookalikes took on a 3km dash through the middle of the town in aid of charity.

Runners congregated in their red and white outfits at Wallingford School at 10.30am before heading off along the route towards the Market Place.

The fun run, which was the town’s first Santa Dash, was organised by Style Acre, a charity supporting people with learning disabilities.

Once the fundraisers made it to the Market Place on Sunday they were greeted with stalls and live music.

Style Acre spokeswoman Philippa Stannard said: "Thank you to the 200 runners, and 30 volunteers who made the first ever Wallingford Santa Dash a huge success.

"It was a crisp but gloriously sunny start, and the run finished in the historic town’s Market Square in time for the Wallingford Extravaganza, organised by Wallingford’s shopkeepers.

"Mayor Ros Lester officially started the race and was so impressed that she has believes we will be able to do this on an annual basis and have more runners."

There were performances throughout the day from Wallingford School, Michael Buble tribute Oliver Bolton, band Eclectic and the Wallingford Ringers.

The Christmas Tree light switch-on rounded off the event before a impressive firework display entertained the crowds.

At the end of their run, the Santas were rewarded with a medal, as well as a hot drink and a mince pie from The Old Post Office in St Martin's Street.

Among those taking part were Kairat and Matthew Knight with their children, Pheobe, six and Connor, five.

Elsewhere, the streets of Chipping Norton also packed out as families eagerly watched the festive lights being switched on.

The town also hosted a spectacular parade as the festively decorated lanterns beamed through the streets lighting

up many smiles along the way.

Families were also able to enjoy the bustling Christmas market and Santa’s grotto while enjoying the beautiful carol singing