Being an Englishman at Christmas gives us a wonderfully warm glow. The Scots have their Hogmanay and haggis throwing, Australians will be busy at the barbie, the Americans have Thanksgiving, but Christmas, a proper chestnut roasting Christmas, is an English affair. At the end of every year we slump onto our Christmas laurels, flatulent with pride that this peculiar hybrid of Victorian invention and Dickensian romance is bloody well ours. And apart from when they replaced baby Jesus with the cheerier Morcecambe & Wise in 1970, an English Christmas remains remarkably unchanged.
But perhaps that’s the problem. England’s Christmas capital has become a party pooper. At the turn of the millennium things perked up a little along the ole charcoal Thames with the launch of the Dome, London Eye, IMAX and the Somerset House ice rink, but since then all we’re left with is a sprinkling of market stalls, the crucifix of illuminations at Oxford Circus, and that boring free pine tree in Trafalgar Square.
So, what’s dampened our festive spirit? Was it the big fiscal fish of sobriety that slapped us across the faces in 2008, or have we simply grown too cool for Christmas?
Some of the blame must surely be laid at the shopfronts of those retailers who stretched the celebrations, like a giant stocking elastic, from the end of August to Boxing Day. Psychologists have proven that listening to Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want’ for five months causes early onset dementia, so perhaps it’s a US conspiracy. The Americans themselves cleverly fixed a fat, turkey-sized valve, known as Thanksgiving, at the end of November, which holds back the real festivities until just a month before the big day.
The truth is, the rest of the world has raced past us. The wonderfully crisp and tacky German markets have multiplied like mice across Europe and even into the US: Dresden, Cologne, Vienna, Lille and Helsinki, each put on a far more fabulous display of Yuletide optimism than Londoners could ever dream of, with glowing squares festooned in lights and brimful of markets and fun-fairs. Montreal has a ‘Fire on Ice’ fireworks extravaganza, Brisbane has a series of amazing shows and parades on its south bank; Copenhagen’s Tivoli Garden becomes a winter wonderland with dozens of rides and a cheeky Santa to ho ho ho amongst the revellers and a few miles away in Freetown Christiana the Christmas market is more like an oriental bazaar. In its bid for visitors, Zagreb puts on a magnificent show where inhibitions are kicked into touch to encourage dancing and singing with local beer. Metz has an ice sculpture parade, Christkindlmarkt in Chicago holds a kids’ scavenger hunt and in Philadelphia, their month long Christmas village features a German grill for bratwurst and fries. The list of inspiration is endless.
Meanwhile, back in lacklustre London, even red-pilled Ebeneezer would go back to bed.
So, London, it’s time to bring Christmas home. This isn’t some rose-tinted plea for the good old days. Q4 is how retail pays its rent, so we must step up and unleash all that untapped spirit that currently has nowhere to go.
Please, New West End Company, let’s make sure the (hopefully) newly pedestrianised Oxford Street is the catalyst for bustling street markets, local craft fairs, winter fashion shows, carol karaoke, lantern walks, firework displays and sing-alongs. Yes, Westfield, (Unibail) you must retaliate with street food fairs, celebrity cook-offs, midnight suppers, sleigh rides, light shows, concerts, ice sculptures and treasure hunts.
Sure, retail is going through a tough patch, but it won’t help sobbing into your egg nog. Let’s all pull up our Christmas stockings, shake off our Scrooge and grab Christmas 2018 by the baubles.