THE most wonderful time of the year officially begins on November 16 at Festival Place, when a host of colourful fairy tale characters band together to bring the storybook world to life.

Enchanting spells will be cast over the shopping centre as a day-long festive launch event kick starts six-weeks of fun to mark the start of Christmas in Basingstoke town centre.

A festive fairy land will take over Festival Place from 10am on the launch day with a whole host of events taking place throughout the day.

The Festive Fairy will host a range of free magical activities pop up throughout the day.

Shopper are urged to keep their eyes peeled, and to expect the unexpected as they stumble across Festa the talking reindeer, a magic mirror, marching soldiers, wind-up doll dancers and mischievous elves.

Following the launch day, there will be further surprises in store to delight shoppers throughout November and December.

A magical pop-up pantomime Festa and the Frozen Fjords will transport audiences to a wintry wonderland, and a series of festive workshops will invite visitors to learn how to make traditional gingerbread men, Christmas crackers, and beautiful floral wreaths for the Christmas table and front door.

Younger visitors will love to see Santa at the traditional grotto, test all this year’s favourite toys, and dress up in sparkly fairy wings, a perfect opportunity to snap that festive photo.

Neil Churchill, Festival Place centre director, said: “This will be a joyful fairy tale Christmas, with magical surprises at every turn.

“We all love a really traditional Christmas, and the Festival Place team will be pulling out all the stops to create something special, with candy canes, gingerbread men, toy soldiers, a magical Christmas grotto and even a talking reindeer!

“It will be six weeks of fantastic festive fun – and Festival Place’s huge range of top-brand retailers, leisure facilities and restaurants will make this year’s Christmas shopping trip one to remember

For a full list of activities taking place in the shopping centre during the six-week period see below:

November 16 – Christmas Launch (10am-7pm)

A host of colourful fairy tale characters will be roaming the centre to spread a little Christmas magic! Look out for the Brilliant Bellboy Band, our sparkling Festive Fairy and musician, super chefs Nigelfa and Hestonblumentelf, mischievous elves, LED ballerinas, wind-up doll dancers, toy soldiers, and Festa the talking reindeer.

Weekends from November 16 to December 22 – Festive Train

A festive train will help shoppers by picking them up on the upper level and doing a loop to and from Paperchase. The train will cost £1 per person with all proceeds going to St. Michael’s Hospice.

Weekends from November 16 to December 22 – Frozen Fjords

The Frozen Fjords Theatre Show can be booked on the Festival Place website or any time up to an hour before the performance. Tickets will be £5 per person all proceeds will go to St Michael’s Hospice.

Weekends from November 16 to December 14 – Flower Therapy

Need a break from Christmas shopping? Head over to the Hampshire Flower Studio for mindfulness wreath making. Learn a new skill in this adult-only space with tea and cake provided. Book your slot at the Customer Lounge.

November 23 & 24 – Toy Testers

Try out the latest toys, gadgets and Christmas must-haves for little (and big) kids. All elf approved, of course!

December 7 & 8 – Cracker Station

Get crafty and join our elves at the Christmas Cracker Making Station! Fill your crackers with giggles, jokes and wishes to start your Christmas with a bang!

December 14 & 15 – Gingerbread Men Making

Get creative this Christmas and decorate your very own gingerbread friend in our fun-filled festive kitchen. Find us on the Upper Level.

Throughout December – Happy Wrappy

Rubbish at wrapping? Need an extra pair of hands? Get all wrapped up with Festive Services’ Happy Wrappy team in aid of St. Michael’s Hospice. This service will run on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday each week throughout December starting on Sunday, December 1. There will be an extra date on Monday, December 23, for those last-minute gifts. For times, please check the website.

From November 16 to December 24 – Santa’s Grotto

Come and visit our fabulous, festive grotto for a truly magical Christmas experience for all the family, open from November 16 until December 24.