FROM the York Mystery Plays down the years to myriad Illuminating York festivals, the York Museum Gardens have been bathed in magnificent light.

More precisely, the medieval walls of St Mary’s Abbey and the pillared frontage of the Yorkshire Museum have been the canvas for truly memorable imagery, whether of Christ lit up on his cross against the night sky or the dazzling playfulness of assorted lighting installations at York’s formerly annual festival of light.

No-one, however, has taken on the challenge of lighting the whole panoply of ten acres of botanical gardens until now, when Lunchbox Theatrical Productions and project partner Raymond Gubbay, “world renowned producer of Christmas trails”, have teamed up to launch their “unforgettable after-dark experience”, Christmas at York Museum Gardens.

James Cundall’s Lunchbox company will be producing ten weeks of open-air Shakespeare plays in the purpose-built Rose Theatre on a York car park next summer, and the “Theatrical” part of their name will be more apparent in those productions of Macbeth, Richard III, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo And Juliet than it is in this winter’s garden light show. It might have been apt to have had actors doing a scene from A Christmas Carol or musicians performing carols and winter songs; instead there are piped carols and the ubiquitous unholy trinity of Slade, Wizzard and The Pogues.

Entering the gardens through the gateway down the right-hand side of York Art Gallery, visitors will set off on a timed ticket on an illuminated trail designed to take an hour, allowing for stops for, take your pick, face painting (£4); waffles (on average £5), and a chat with Father Christmas.

It all begins, as commercial enterprises are wont to do, with a Christmas village with a vintage funfair ride, games stall, the aforementioned face painting, and warming pies from the Yorkshire Pudding Pie Company; sponsors Talk Talk are on hand for a talk-talk too.

Onwards to the York Art Gallery’s edible garden, where The 12 Frames of Christmas, each with a York twist designed by illustrator Howard Gray with typography by York’s Richard Corrigan, are accompanied by that festive chart topper The Twelve Days Of Christmas. Through the gateway, you will find musical LED trees and row upon hypnotic row of ever-changing coloured globes on the opposite lawn. Christmas scenes of Father Christmas, sword-fighting mice and more besides play out on the St Mary’s Abbey ruins, in truth not a patch on the best Illuminating York installations.

Yorkshire artist Richard Wheater’s neon art installation spreads across the Yorkshire Museum lawn and the musically minded can then have a go at making a tune out of the musical tree stumps that may require a little patience to work out. Onwards beyond the Hospitium to Father Christmas in his not-so-secret bothy, and then two highlights, a 20m tunnel of shimmering golden light and a tree of spinning mirror balls sending dots of light across bark and grass alike.

Past neon signs in capital letters saying Peace, Love, Jolly, Magical, Ho Ho Ho and such like, the walk comes to a warming close with the impressive Finale of Fire, lighting the way across the library lawn to a reviving mulled wine, spiced cider or hot chocolate.

No Nativity scene, no mention of Jesus, this Christmas at York Museum Gardens is more the Disney kind of Christmas. Illuminating in one way, but a sign of the times too. Just like the ticket prices: £14.95; children aged 16 and under, £8.95; family of four, £40; accompanied children under four, free.

Lunchbox Theatrical Productions presents Christmas at York Museum Gardens until January 1, open from 4.45pm to 9.30pm, except Christmas Day, with timed tickets at 4.45pm, 5pm, 5.30pm, 6pm, 6.30pm, 7pm, 7.30pm, 8pm and 8.30pm. Box office: christmasatyorkmuseum