Here in Scotland we face more of a long dark night during winter than places further south, so it’s no surprise perhaps that we like to light up our streets and keep the wintry gloom at bay. According to recent research, the two cities in the UK that spend the most on lights are Dundee and Glasgow. Spend in Dundee, per head of population, is around twice that in Glasgow, which also spends more per head than other cities in the UK.

Christmas isn’t long off – when do we get to watch the big switch-on?

We don’t. The big “light nights” that are a feature of so many towns and cities have been cancelled because of coronavirus concerns. The flick of the switch won’t have the usual fanfare around it – but the likes of George Square in Glasgow and George Street in Edinburgh will still be bedazzling, as will many other streets around the country.

But it’s not just the councils that like to put a bit of wattage into our Christmas nights, is it?

Not at all. We’re also pretty good at draping our homes and gardens in Christmas lights. For instance, the Woods family in Prestonpans has garnered a reputation for each year brightening up their home with more than 10,000 Christmas lights – and some Scots have already long had their homes twinkling. In South Lanarkshire, Ian and Helen Cochran decided, it would bring a bit of cheer to this particularly tough year to put their Christmas lights up two months early – at the beginning of October. Ian, who has been decorating his home for 35 years, said, “I thought about it early September knowing many people will be depressed with dark winter nights approaching and possibly no contact with anyone.”

Issue of the day: A case fit for Sherlock Holmes?

George Square does a glittering illumination, but surely there are places in the world that go crazier with the fairy lights?

Well, if you’re looking, globally for places that really outdo most others on the twinkle front, there’s the likes of Medellin in Colombia, where lights decorate around 100 spots around the city, bring up an LED count of over 30 million, and are still planned, in spite of the pandemic, or Callaway Gardens in Georgia, which has a drive-thru light trail of 8 million lights.

So this is just a nice, light story without any downside?

Well, not exactly. There is the electricity the lights use up, and the emissions associated, and then there’s also the light pollution, which can cause confusion for local wildlife. The energy switching website Flipper estimates that if the average household leaves their Christmas lights on for ten hours a day over the twelve days of Christmas they will produce enough carbon dioxide to fill 64 balloons. It also recommends using LED, not incandescent, bulbs.

And what on earth do fairy lights have to do with fairies?

That dates back to 1882 when the Savoy theatre, which was the first building in the world to be lit entirely by electricity, commissioned electric lighting pioneer Joseph Swan to create tiny lights for the dresses of the lead fairies on the opening night of one of its shows. Their costumes were decorated with lights powered by battery packs hidden beneath the folds of the fabric.