Christmas Markets came late to the UK. It’s not that the UK didn’t celebrate Christmas. Since Victoria’s Albert brought the Christmas tree to England the Brits have done it up in grand style. Before Christmas markets, in the European fashion, came to the UK there was always Covent Garden with its stalls and decorations and Regent Street moving out from Piccadilly Circus. (Below are some pic of these Traditional Christmas celebrations.)
But for Britain to have Central European style Christmas Markets, not so much until recently. I wrote a little about the history of European Christmas Markets in an earlier blog post.
Medieval Central European cities held four annual markets in their main square. Four times a year people not only brought foods to markets (as they did every week) but came in to sell goods they had made; furniture, toys, baskets, and, in the December markets, preserves and wine. The December markets became identified with Advent and known as Advent markets (or Nicholas markets, because people gave gifts on St. Nicholas day.) The one in Salzburg was the Knick Knack Market because it sold toys and ornaments. Martin Luther didn’t like the idea of Nicholas bringing gifts to kids; he thought it should be the Christ Child, and that gifts should come on Christmas not St. Nicholas day. In Lutheran areas of Germany the markets were renamed Chriskindel or “Christ Child” markets. That name spread, but it was only after the end of World War II that markets in Catholic cities like Salzburg changed from being Advent markets.
Christmas Markets moved down the Danube to Budapest and even Belgrade, and up into Northern Europe, the Netherlands, Belgium and France, but the first proper European Christmas Market in the UK was only in the 1980s. This year I attended three European style Christmas markets in London, although they, of course, each had an English quirk.
Winter wonderland takes over Hyde Park. It has brightly lit arches and one Brit who stood behind ma said “My God, it looks more like South India than London.” I’ll let you judge by the pictures. The Hype Park market sells Christmas Handicrafts and lots of food but the main attraction seems to be the amusement rides. Hyde Park is a cross between a mid-western county fair midway and a Christmas Market.
The Southbank Christmas Market, called Winter Festival has craft booths lined along the walk on the south bank of the Thames but the main action is a little south with more amusement rides and a LOT of food booths.
The third market is the newest and, to me, the most traditionally European, “Christmas in Leicester Square.” It is the only of the three that actually uses Christmas in its titles. It is small, befitting the square it calls home, but I found the variety of crafts mixed with food made me feel like I was at European Christmas Market.
For more on Christmas Markets you can navigate to this page and follow the links.
And don’t forget, on Christmas Eve, tune into the Battery Exchange on Raven Radio or kcaw.org. I am always looking for new Christmas material for the show and some of this may pop up.