Getting into the spirit

So, seeing as though we need expensive visas, a plethora of pre-bookings, and the organisation skills of a Japanese Assembly Line Manager just to make it across the border to what those locals would call civilisation, it would seem that staying put is our only option for the next few months. And so, instead of making a trip to see the venerable Christmas markets of Germany, or Switzerland, or even Hungary, we’re making do with the ones in our own backyard.

Now, the first thing that needs a bit of clarification is that, for the most part, there’s nothing particularly Christmassy about many of these UK markets – they’re crafty, and a good source of stuff (especially edible stuff), and just happen to be on the go at Christmastime. Or at least, this applies to the ones we’ve been to so far. Ok, there’s glühwein, and decorations, and the stalls usually decorate themselves a little with lights and such, and there are carols playing. Hmmm… maybe they are somewhat Christmassy after all. Well, either way, they are a lot of fun.

Although, they’d be even more fun if they were less fun, as there’d be fewer people to be crushed between. Especially in a place like Bath, which is popular as a tourist destination on its own. In between the baths themselves, the awe-inspiring abbey, and the immaculate Georgian architecture, it’s a fantastic place to walk around and take in the history. Which, as you’re continually being reminded, goes back to Roman days. So adding in the attraction of the market tips it over the edge a bit, and there’s quite a lot of people there. But then, I’m not really a people person, so I’m not the best one to judge just at which point ‘a lot’ becomes ‘too much’. Because for me, that number can probably be counted on my fingers. So don’t take my word for it.

But at this point, it becomes a bit embarrassing, because in searching far and wide for markets to go to (Lincoln, Grassington, Caerphilly, etc), we somehow managed to miss the fact that there’s a large market right in Birmingham itself. With real Germans, no less. (No – there aren’t any real Germans for sale – they come over from Frankfurt to sell stuff.) So we’ll have to make time over the next week or two to head over there. And scoff a few bratwurst, knackwurst, and perhaps, as an added extra, some extrawurst.

Closer to home (so close, in fact, that it’s inside the home) – it’s nice to live in a country where there are decent varieties of pine from which to choose a suitable receptacle for ornaments. No stringy, see-through, grey-green tree for us this year. For those not familiar with SA pine, see if you can spot the difference:

2006 2010

And not just that – the tree on the right came with two mini-trees for the kids to decorate in their own rooms. Offcuts, sure, but they found them remarkably inspiring, and have made quite a few decorations to hang on them.

Lastly, it wouldn’t be Christmas without a lot of lights decorating the houses. This is a reasonably new phenomenon in SA, where in the last ten years or so, more and more people have taken to stringing various lighting artefacts over, near and in the vicinity of their houses. Unfortunately, we seem to have taken the US route, and the result is a proliferation of kitsch that only lovers of the cheap and nasty could celebrate. (Apologies in advance to those in the US – please correct me if I have it wrong, but the only pictures I’ve ever seen of American Christmas lights have been along these lines. If there’s more class than that, but we just don’t see it, then please correct me. If that is your definition of class…. well….). Here in England, it seems that there are two streams fighting it out for Supreme Overlord status – there’s the US “Make it bright enough to light up a runway” school, and there’s the “Keep it subtle enough to not be out of place at the opera” school. At first, I thought the latter was winning, but the former have come out with a bang (and a flash). I’ll keep you posted as to who wins the battle in my neighbourhood at the end of the year.


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