Britons look to Europe as they turn Christmas into a winter wonderland

Powered by article titled “Britons look to Europe as they turn Christmas into a winter wonderland” was written by Tracy McVeigh, for The Observer on Saturday 30th November 2013 13.04 UTC

As Advent calendar doors are ripped open and children fight over an infinitesimal piece of slightly fusty chocolate, the British festive season will officially get under way.

So far, so traditional. But is a change in tone detectable this year, a transformation in how Britain experiences what for years now seems to have become little more than a celebration of shopping? Maybe it’s because people can now do so much of their present buying online, freeing up a little more time; perhaps it’s the desire to bring a bit of magic back into a season which had lost its sparkle in a flurry of consumerism. But this Christmas is all about the days out, rather than the ferocity of the shopfloor scrums.

It seems Britain has caught up with other nations and is turning Christmas into a month-long affair, a wintertime experience. Not since the days of Queen Victoria, when the German-born Prince Albert helped to set the trend for putting decorated trees in the home, has Britain quite so enthusiastically embraced the festivities of other northern Europeans.

The German tradition of the artisan Christmas market – first replicated down to the last glass of Glühwein in Birmingham’s Victoria Square, thanks to its twinning with Frankfurt – is to be universally found. It seems you can barely cross one of Britain’s towns and cities without tripping over an ice rink, a pretzel or mulled-wine stall or some theatrical winter wonderland. The Scandinavian obsession with elves and fairy folk at Christmas has become entrenched, with elf training schools and forest grottoes springing up in every patch of woodland. Cookery courses for foreign Christmas fare are everywhere.

No longer is a Santa in a limp cottonwool beard in a department store or shopping mall enough. The demand is for authenticity and experience, a family day out that doesn’t involve fighting through overcrowded shops buying things no one truly needs.

“I looked for something special to do at Christmas for my children and was always disappointed,” said Alison Battle, a former inner-city primary schoolteacher and mother of four sons. “We’d take them to Father Christmas every year in some shop that just wanted the footfall and it was really disappointing. It’s such a precious moment for a child, that magic and suspension of belief.”

Battle decided to start up Lapland UK, a Christmas experience in Berkshire. “One year we took the boys to Lapland, but you can’t do that every year, can you? So we decided to recreate that very traditional experience here, just to hang on to that innocence. And it’s obviously what a lot of people wanted too, because we’ve just had our 200,000th visitor.”

Much the same motivation pushed Shella Parkin in Brighton to set up Laine Ltd, an events company based around the notion of using the backdrop of the dramatic Brighton Pavilion to produce her own Christmas ice spectacular.

“I have young children and know it’s almost a miracle to get them out of the house at this time of the year. But this is something which really gives them a moment. It’s something which is so special, so wondrous as ice skating in the open air, especially here in Brighton, where we have this amazing backdrop. I love watching the families interacting on the ice – a lot of dads get their skates on and it’s something to do right in the city centre that is Christmassy but not shopping. It is so very atmospheric.”

Parkin said she was astonished when Brighton and Hove council agreed to let her run the rink so close to the Pavilion, but already it has become a centrepiece of Christmas in the area.

A huge Christmas market has taken over London’s South Bank. The Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is attracting huge numbers. And every city worth its rock salt is hosting at least one, if not several, outdoor ice rinks. From Cardiff to Leeds, Manchester’s Trafford Centre and Derby, under Edinburgh castle and Winchester cathedral, or at the Eden Project in Cornwall, with half a dozen springing up in the capital from outside the Natural History Museum to Canary Wharf.

If the blades don’t do it for you, there is always history, with a medieval Christmas at the Tower of London. Hampton Court is putting on a Tudor Christmas. In Scotland, a pantomime is being performed inside the Ayrshire birthplace of Robert Burns. Demand has seen several extra dates added on to the show in the restored cottage museum, while the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) is also running an elf training school at the former home of explorer David Livingstone in the Lanarkshire town of Blantyre.

Glasgow’s answer to Downton Abbey, William Adam’s Pollok House, is facing a sell-out season for a Mrs Claus “experience”, with live reindeer expected.

“We’re seeing the popularity of these kinds of events growing and growing. People are really looking for something that’s more about Christmas and less about shopping,” said Carly Lamberty of the NTS. “For us, as a charity, it’s wonderful.”

Other attractions, such as the National Showcaves of Wales in the Brecon Beacons national park, which would have expected the vast majority of their visitors in summer, are now opening over Christmas as the appetite for a seasonal experience challenges their events managers.

Whether all of this will affect the length of the queues to get into shopping centre car parks is uncertain. But Christmas isn’t what it used to be – though you still might not be able to escape a panto. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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About Carl William Brown

I'm Carl William Brown a holistic teacher, a webmaster, a trader, and a writer of aphorisms and essays. I have written more than 9,000 original quotations and at present I'm also working at my only novel, Fort Attack, which is also a wide and open blog project. At the moment I'm teaching English in a secondary school, but up to now I have done a lot of other things as well, both in business, educational, sport and social fields. Some years ago, in 1997 following the examples of the Rotary or the Lyons Clubs I founded the Daimon Club Organization to promote every sort of activities, creativity, art, literature, new technologies, informatics, business and marketing, public health and education and to meet new friends with these kind of interests.
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