Nottingham, a city best known for Robin Hood, and Sherwood Forest. A legend that goes back hundreds of years, all about outlaws who steal from the rich and give to the poor. The original vigilantes. The castle and forest bring in tourists each year, while a soon-to-be-released Robin Hood movie promises a new wave of enthusiasm for the county. But at Christmas this East Midlands city shrugs off its outlaw persona for something entirely different.
It is time for the Christmas market! Wooden huts line the town square and through speakers everything from carols to the Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is played for the crowds. It doesn’t matter if it is 10am on a Wednesday or noon on a Saturday, the market is busy and thriving. It is a Christmas hub for the middle of England, and oh does it feel festive.
Part of Winter Wonderland Nottingham, this year’s market has expanded from 50 to 70 stalls. All these find homes in small wooden huts, covered in fake snow, which also decorates the sides of the cabins. The effect is incredible but believable. It’s like stepping into a Christmas film -- you get to enjoy the snow without enduring the harsh cold that normally accompanies it.
The market is inspired by the ones that pop up all over Germany at this time every year. You will find plenty of bratwurst stores to prove it. While it is an obviously conceived environment, there is still a sense of magic in the air. But that is the thing about magic: if you choose to believe in it, you will find it. So, when strolling past the stalls let your mind wander. Perhaps Nottingham is exactly where you want to be, or maybe you are in Nuremberg and have miraculously become fluent in German?
As you browse, hot chocolate in hand, consider a buying bag of candied nuts. Even if you are allergic, just thinking about these treats will make you feel Christmassy. You may even come across a small cart selling roast chestnuts, on an open fire. Though perhaps not as seasonal, take the opportunity to sample, or buy some of the local honey on sale. It’s well worth it.
Can a seasonal market really be a market without a variety of handmade, homemade goods on sale? From burnt wood engravings that say, “If you need me, I’ll be in my shed,” to “Grandma’s house, children are spoilt here,” these German markets have a decidedly British flavour.
In the spirit of Christmas, or perhaps the spirit of not being in London, the stall holders are chatty and friendly. Smiling warmly, they gossip about their wares and their lives, and they’ll be glad to hear all about yours, too. A wonderful hearty greeting as winter takes a hold. If you decide to return to them and buy something again, they will most likely remember you (you may even get a discount.) So be sure to jump into the spirit of things.
The market attracts buyers from all over the world, and goods from all over, too. There are soft, embroidered scarves which the stall holder will happily tell you she goes to Bali to buy every year. There are of course locally knitted woolly hats and teddy bears, and the Christmas goods as well. Wreaths of weaved wicker, and pine cone decorations are ready to add festive cheer to your homes.
And there is more than this light Christmas shopping to spread seasonal cheer. For children, there are rides. An old-fashioned Helter Skelter is ready and waiting to provide a winter thrill. There is an ice rink, too, just in front of the town hall. It proudly boasts to be the largest one in the East Midlands, and with its view of the historic building the experience is indeed rather idyllic.