A plan to axe the word Christmas from this year’s city centre festive celebrations has been criticised by religious leaders.

Council chiefs have confirmed there will be no traditional Christ-mas light switch-on in Oxford this year, but instead revellers will be greeted with a 25-metre high mobile of lanterns in the shape of the solar system.

A city council spokesman confirmed this year’s event would be called the “Winter Light Festival” to include all religious denominations.

Shoppers on the streets of Oxford criticised the decision to cut out the word Christmas and called for a return to tradition.

There will also be no mention of the word Christmas in the reduced "festive lights" programme to be erected in the city.

The idea is the brainchild of the charity Oxford Inspires, which has been set up to promote culture in the county and increase participation in cultural events.

Councillors have claimed they are not “Christmas killers”, but the move has outraged religious leaders of all denominations in the city.

Sabir Hussain Mirza, chairman of the Muslim Council of Oxford, said: "I'm really upset about this. This is the one occasion which everyone looks forward to in the year. Christians, Muslims and other religions all look forward to Christmas.

"This is going to be a disaster. I'm angry and very, very disappointed.

"Christmas is special and we shouldn't ignore it. Christian people should be offended and 99 per cent of people will be against this. Christmas is part of being British and we shouldn't hide it away."

Rabbi Eli Bracknell, who teaches at the Jewish Educational Centre, in Cowley Road, said: "It's important to maintain a traditional British Christmas. Anything that waters down traditional culture and Christianity in the UK is not positive for the British identity.

"Winter includes all of these festivals but it also conceals them."

Reverend James Grote, of the John Bunyan Baptist Church, in Cowley, said: "People are not offended by hearing each other's faiths.

"Our religious community is diverse and each one should be expressed. You can only do that if you name the faiths represented."

Last year the city council came under criticism for asking Lord Mayor John Tanner to switch on the Christmas Lights and not stumping up cash for a celebrity.

This year it has decided to do away with the switch-on altogether and instead lights will be turned on automatically at the beginning of the Winter Light event as part of the unveiling of the new Bonn Square on Friday, November 28.

A giant mobile of the solar system will hang from a crane in Broad Street on that night and will be lit up by a pyrotechnic display of fireworks by performance arts company 'Walk the Plank'.

Oxford Inspires spokesman Tei WIlliams said: "The ceremony takes place on November 28. It's hardly Christmas if it's November.

“In Oxfordshire we have Winter Light which is a whole festival spanning two months. Within that festival will be Christmas Carol services."

Liz Gresham of Oxford Inspires added: "We changed the name to be more inclusive.

“We have Diwali at this time of year and Hannukah, so these are represented as well."

Deputy Leader of the council Ed Turner said: "We are not Christmas killers. Among councillors there's certainly no desire to downgrade the importance or the prominence given to Christmas. Several festivals take place at this time of year so this is a way of celebrating them all at the one time.

"There's going to be a Christmas tree and even if the lights are called something else to me they will be Christmas lights."