10 signs your Christmas market is a yuletide dud

‘Tis the season for flat-packed wooden chalets, saccharine mulled wine and the magical opportunity to purchase your name, bent into shape using salvaged coat-hanger wire. In the last decade or so, the number of Christmas markets in the UK rose from an estimated 30 to over 100, generating at least £500 million a year to the economy. But are they making that much merriment?

There have been some real horror shows. In 2014, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen’s ‘Magical Journey’ in Birmingham screeched to a halt after just 24 hours. It had been billed as “immersive, theatrical… a winter wonderland of magic and drama”. But in the words of one punter, the actual experience amounted to this: “You basically walk around a small wood, while people dressed as elves try to slow you down.”

It could have been worse. In 2008, the owners of ‘Lapland New Forest’ were actually jailed for misleading the public. “You told consumers that it would light up those who most loved Christmas,” the judge summed up. “What you actually provided was something that looked like an averagely managed summer car boot sale.”

So how can you tell if the Christmas market you’ve booked is full of festive cheer or… something less sweet smelling? Here are some (festively hued) red flags to watch out for.

Christmas market London Leicester Square


In the last decade or so, the number of Christmas markets in the UK rose from an estimated 30 to over 100


Credit: Getty

1. Christmas has come to a conference centre (or a car park)

In Lapland, he has powder-soft snow, ancient forests, the Northern Lights… in the UK, however, Father Christmas has so far exhibited a baffling tendency to pick rather more humble locations. 

Last year, visitors were reportedly left speechless at the sight of ‘Doncaster’s Late Night Christmas Market’. And not in a good way. “Many travelled long distances from as far as Bedford, Hull, Rotherham, Leeds and Bradford,” one punter told Yorkshire Live. “For what? Turns out to be a flea market in the Parklands Club on Wheatley Hall Road.”

2. Wonderland’s borders resemble those at Calais

The ticketed area is surrounded by tall, temporary fence panels. How festive. It’s almost as if you and your credit card are being kettled.

3. Row after row of identikit spruce chalets 

These are designed to disorientate you. As is the sickly scent of sweet cheap booze. It’s like Vegas, or a drizzling Hotel California. You can never leave. You will be discovered, wreathed in fake holly and wandering the food hall, when workmen return to rejig it into a Hallowe’en Spooktacular.

Christmas market stalls chalet Aylesbury


Row after row of identikit spruce chalets are designed to disorientate you


Credit: Getty

4. The ‘ice ring’ is rubberised

Any self-respecting Wonderland has an ice rink. No matter if, in the words of last year’s Norwich Evening News, your local one turns out to be “a tiny bit of the car park covered in white uneven plastic.”

5. The pressure’s getting to Santa

Lord knows the hospitality industry is going through hard times. “Santa and his elves are not immune to the shortages of seasonal workers,” as Jack Kennedy, economist for indeed.co.uk, said last year, as the job search site published data showing that searches of seasonal roles were down 27 per cent last Christmas. 

The stress appears to be getting to Father Christmas, who was accused of slurring his words while slumped in one Greater Manchester grotto last December. Later, a family found him having a sneaky cigarette, beard round his chin. Nor was it his first offence. In 2016, a Christmas gala event was forced to fire their chain-smoking Santa. “My children found the walk home more fun,” said one mother on Facebook.

6. Pretzels and pizza

On its journey from Lapland, your Winter Wonderland has suffered some cultural and culinary disorientation. Everything from Spanish churros to Chicago deep pan pizza has been swept into its food hall. The festive scent of trans fats fills the air. As one amateur food critic wrote on Lincoln Christmas Market’s Tripadvisor page: “I would probably consider taking antibiotic prophylaxis before eating any of their overpriced offerings.”

Christmas market Winter Wonderland Hyde Park London


Everything from Spanish churros to Chicago deep pan pizza has been swept into the food hall of your Winter Wonderland


Credit: Getty

7. The loos – more Latitude than Lapland

When you finally reach the front of the queue (that mulled wine moves through you fast) there’s a festive surprise awaiting. The public loos look like their last booking was on a building site, or in festival field. Less grotto, more grotty. 

8. ‘Santa’s helpers’ are wearing heels

And red ‘velvet’ mini-skirts. They may even be carrying trays of Jagerbombs. Either way, it looks like the Christmas wishes of children weren’t uppermost in the organisers’ minds. 

9. (Not very) cheap and cheerful

Craft soaps. Wind chimes. Your name burnt into a flimsy wooden ornament/twisted into a wobbly wire ring/printed onto a mug made in China. These Christmas craft stalls should come with parental warnings. They are irrefutable proof that Father Christmas has no idea what’s on anyone’s list this year.

10. Traffic management

Failed to bring your flying sleigh? Sorry, you’re now destined to spend several hours inching the Ford Focus towards the exit. Or, as one visitor to the festive city of Bath tweeted: “What Sartre omitted to mention is that Hell is other people RAMMED ONTO BATH STATION AFTER THE SODDING CHRISTMAS MARKET. Whatever I did in my past life, I now truly repent.”


What was your worst Christmas market or winter wonderland experience? Which of our festive attractions still provides a dose of yuletide magic? Please leave your comments below

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