‘Tis the season for overpriced pints, mile-long Croissant queues, and crowded streets; the Manchester Christmas markets are back, but my heart must be two sizes too small because they make me nothing but miserable.
I am no Scrooge. My love for Christmas and all things festive is up there with the best of them. As soon as the first door of the advent calendar is open, the tree is up, the Christmas playlist is on, and my December is filled with Mr Bublé’s buttery voice.
I just can’t stand the markets.
2023 is the 25th year of the Christmas markets in the self-styled “UK capital of Christmas,” and whilst many welcome their annual return, I have begun to loathe it. They are simply too busy to be enjoyed. It’s estimated nine million people visit the Manchester Christmas markets each year, and a recent analysis of the number of hashtags on Instagram has seen them crowned as “the most Instagram-worthy markets in Europe.”
As we all know, sheer volume is the only way to determine the worth of something. What’s that old saying? Quantity over quality? Clearly, the hut outside Zara flogging hotdogs is better than the traditional markets in the beautiful town squares of Gdansk and Budapest because metrics make the world go round. And don’t get me wrong, the sausages are nice – if a bit pricey – but munching my currywurst a few feet away from next week’s Vinted listing doesn’t exactly make my bells jingle.
As a student in Manchester, you may notice an uptick in visits from friends and family during the festive period, and without fail these visitors will suggest a quick trip to the Christmas Markets whilst they’re in town. They don’t know what they ask for.
Perhaps your inaugural trip in first year was an enjoyable experience. If your hometown is anything like mine – home of 2020’s saddest-looking Christmas Tree – a bit of festive cheer was probably welcome. But on the second, third, or even fifth visit, the grottos begin to lose their glamour.
The idea of them is great. A place to eat some food, drink beer or mulled wine, and maybe, just maybe, find the ever elusive ‘Christmassy’ feeling we’ve all been searching for since we found out that the big man in the red suit wasn’t real (sorry).
But can we please stop pretending they’re fun? Even if they’re not maddeningly busy, they’re still overpriced. The MEN recently reported that the prices have gone up again this year, and this comes after the national uproar last December when a bag of pick and mix cost an unsuspecting market-goer an eye-watering £12.56. It was mainly flumps too.
You would think the proliferation of stalls throughout the city would ease the congestion. But no, from Piccadilly Gardens down Market Street and over to St Anne’s and Exchange Square the queues and the bodies are never-ending. If your only defence of the markets is “Oh it’s nice” or “It’s tradition” then find other nice things, start new traditions. There’s simply no enjoyment in waddling an inch away from a stranger; both resigned to your endless plod on the way to the next stall.
I recently had my first venture to the hellscape that is the city centre on a Saturday during the market season. Call me a humbug if you want, but it was utterly joyless. I know we Brits are famed for our supposed love of queues, but waiting half an hour for an overpriced burger isn’t getting me into the spirit. I’d love to say the Yorkshire pudding wrap is delicious, but the queue has beaten me into submission on several occasions. So who knows whether they’re worth it or not?
There was a brief glimmer of a moment when we’d managed to get into the gated community/bar area in Piccadilly Gardens. Drink in hand, Christmas songs playing, people singing, I thought my misery had defrosted, and I finally got it. The festive feeling these places are supposed to create. Unfortunately, it evaporated as soon as we left our seats and had to shuffle our way to the exit. From there we were herded like cattle up towards the hog roll hut, and my grouchiness returned.
The simple fact is there is not enough space for the amount of visitors the Markets attract. For all of its faults, London’s Winter Wonderland is at least in a large contained area away from other businesses. The markets are plonked onto the high street with no real thought of crowd management, so shoppers, the ‘festive,’ and city dwellers are pushed together in yuletide misery.
I’m well aware the markets aren’t going anywhere. They are a boon for Manchester city council, so there’s a good chance I’ll be making a miserable pilgrimage to them again next year. But for the record, not wanting to go to them does not make me a Scrooge, Grinch, or a humbug.
So enjoy the markets. I’ll quite happily be sitting at home listening to Wham!, watching The Muppet Christmas Carol and eating celebrations by the bucket load.