Depending on your point of view, or festive temperament, the onset of December is met either with a socket wrenching eye roll or a ruddy faced smile as you bring the second or third (or fourth) glass of Gluhwein to your lips. The days are slipping by as the juggernaut that is Christmas inches ever closer. Without diminishing its original meaning, Christmas is often “long periods of boredom punctuated with short moments of terror.” Except usually during the periods of boredom alcohol is never far away. One minute you’re stood in one queue after another in various high street shops and the next you’re shaking hands and hugging with the in-laws. Boredom and terror. Luckily for me at least some of this terror was tempered by the fact that I had bought most of my presents throughout the year. This level of organisation was only spurred on by the fact that the weekend before last Christmas was spent in a mad dash around previously mentioned high street shops as the whole of December seemed to have run away with itself. Not this year! Instead my aim is to approach Christmas in an altogether more serene manner.
And what better way to test my serenity challenge than to tackle the Manchester Christmas Markets. A few days ago just as the weather was starting to turn truly Baltic, a couple of friends and myself resolved to go after work on a Thursday. Heading to the main congregation of Alpine huts clustered in Albert Square, what was most immediately striking was the sheer scale of the whole enterprise. Each year the stalls spread further and further out from the epicentre, winding their way through side streets and boulevards with their strung lighting stretching on as far as you can see. Never has there been a better opportunity for Mancunians to fill their faces with an array of sausages, cheeses, pastries and fresh mulled wine (judging from the neat mountain of bin bags that were tucked away by the entrance there had already been plenty of face filling.) Owing mostly to the bitter cold the first port of call was the nearest tureen of wine, of which there were many. Wrapping my hands around a steaming porcelain mug and feeling the first few sips start to warm me up from the inside was bliss. As we ambled around the network of alleys with Gluhweins in hand, I was keeping my serenity challenge in mind. It struck me how changing my attitude just a little was making the whole experience thoroughly more enjoyable. Instead of fighting my way through a crush of adults, buggies and disoriented toddlers I felt buoyed along on a sea of people. The pace was slow but that’s exactly what I wanted as it gave me time to really revel in the whole atmosphere. There were burly men shouting above the din to flog cheeses and meats, work friends milling around having a raucous drink, families munching down on stacks of crepes with at least one child having a face flecked in whipped cream, couples staring dreamily at each other over an apple strudel or more likely arguing over which piece of kitsch wooden decoration to buy. However as I snaked my way through it all, it felt less like an assault on the senses and more like I was being slowly immersed into a warm bath or nest of duvets.
It truly felt like a tangible experience of what would be called “Christmas cheer”. Before you get the wrong idea and think I’m the type of person who wears a Christmas jumper all through December and is the one waking the kids up on Christmas day then I can only earnestly tell you that this isn’t the case. Of course it can be easy to sneer at the attempts at recreating a faux-Germanic outpost in the North of England; I mean somehow I doubt that German folk are queuing around the block for a £6 mug of wine (including £2 deposit! Be sure to hand the mug back at the window on your left!) But this, to me at least, would be beside the point. This may seem a rather saccharine (or even obvious) note to end on but then again that is, at least partially, what Christmas is about. I can already feel that this year’s festive period is going to be a lot more enjoyable for me purely because I’ve changed my attitude towards it. I don’t feel any pressure to try and create a “perfect Christmas” for me and my family and I don’t think you should too. For now I’m quite content to be swept along by the festivities with nothing but a few mates and a glass of wine in hand. Merry Christmas!