A THREE-DAY festival, featuring a striking lantern parade, will spark Oxford's countdown to Christmas.

The Oxford Christmas Light Festival will take place from tonight until Sunday.

Launched in 2009 as a single evening with a lantern parade, the festival now takes place over three days and includes light and sound installations, a festive market, music, dance and free activities in different venues.

The festival, this year exploring a theme of The World in Oxford, could attract as many as 100,000 visitors and generate a £350,000 boost for the local economy.

Hundreds of lanterns have already been created by school pupils.

Dee Sinclair, board member for culture and communities at Oxford City Council, said: "With such a diverse range of activities and art installations to look forward to, and with so many local people getting involved, the festival certainly promises to be an event to remember."

More than 400 youngsters will pick up their lanterns for a procession starting at 6.30pm tonight at Oxford Castle.

The procession will then move into Queen Street and Cornmarket Street, before ending up at the Westgate Centre, a lead sponsor for the event with Arts Council England.

Artist Paul Batten has helped children to make lanterns, including those at Cheney School and Bayards Hill Primary School in Oxford.

Festival goers will be able to discover 'Memoryphones' which create a sound trail of stories from the Museum of Oxford’s My Journey to Oxford project.

Jo Ross, director of Oxford Contemporary Music, said: "Some very special Oxford people will have their stories shared and heard by thousands of other Oxford residents through the Memoryphones.

"Look out for the curious gramophone-shaped machines and don’t be afraid to stick your head inside for the full experience."

Tonight will also see Gloucester Green host a festival stage presenting a programme of youth and community dance from Dancin’ Oxford groups, followed by a musical finale from the brass band Mr Wilson’s Second Liners.

Tomorrow and Sunday, 30 local choirs will take part in Sing Christmas in pop-up locations around the city, while there will be more live music on a stage in Broad Street.

The festive market in Broad Street will open a day earlier this year – on Friday afternoon – and continue through the weekend for Christmas shopping.

There will be stalls of seasonal treats and winter refreshments, plus a tent run by independent Oxford traders, filled with gifts and local produce.

Different community groups across the city will showcase projects that explore identity and journeys to Oxford.

Its international links are highlighted through light and sound installations as well as a special piece created by young people on their visits to Oxford’s twin cities Leiden in Holland, Bonn in Germany, Grenoble in France, Perm in Russia and Leon in Nicaragua.

Light and sound installations will be put up in the Westgate Centre and Oxford Castle Quarter, with performance stages in Broad Street and Gloucester Green.

The festival is jointly organised by Oxford City Council and Ian Nolan Events.

For more visit oxfordschristmas.com