The Christmas Markets came back to Manchester just over a week ago for their 16th year, and it has become our tradition to pay them a visit — we even walked around them on our wedding day, last year. We’ve sampled the markets in different parts of the country, including Chester and Leeds, and taken a trip abroad to Bruges, several years ago, to make a comparison, but have always concluded that the Manchester ones are the best. Visiting them has been a ritual I have long enjoyed, but feel I may have to abandon next year. Let me explain.
I love Christmas, unlike many others of my ilk … the twinkly lights, the crisp nip in the air, the traditional carols, the scent of berries and cinnamon, and the buying of Christmas cards and presents for our nearest and dearest. Everywhere just seems so much brighter, and more bearable, during the darker autumn and early winter months with a few decorations to brighten one’s mood.
I understand why many are cynical about the commercialism of this annual event, but it has always held happy memories for me, stemming from my childhood, and I take great pains to try and recreate all of this for those around me.
Therefore, I was fired up in anticipation of our first visit to the market on Tuesday of this week and, as usual, the scene was magical, the smells tantalising and the atmosphere, festive. The problem was we’d seen it all before. We could soak in the ambience by drinking mulled wine and European beers; peruse the plethora of stalls selling Christmas wreaths, and seeds and nuts for our garden birds; survey the spicy sausages, chorizo and different varieties of garlic on offer; salivate at the unusual combinations of chocolate and nougat to tempt our taste buds, or wander amongst the numerous other sellers promoting jewellery, leather goods, knitwear and pottery, to name but a few. Unfortunately, though, with the odd exception, it was everything we’d seen the year before, and the year before that.
Plus, it has become so expensive. A hot sandwich will set you back at least five pounds, and that’s without a drink, and many of the other goods are also extortionately priced. We opted to try a sample of the chocolate and nougat — a pic n mix array, if you will — and it set us back around £27. At that price, it’ll last a long time, I can assure you.
I know I shouldn’t complain. We are lucky to live on the doorstep of one of Europe’s busiest and biggest markets that attracts around nine million visitors during its five-week sojourn. But, you know what they say about familiarity. I think I may need to deny myself for a while, in order to fall in love with them all over again.