Christmas time is for slowing down for a few days, burying yourself under a cosy blanket, enjoying some chocolate and red wine, and read till you cannot keep your eyes open anymore. Sounds simple? Maybe, but getting into that cosy atmosphere, when everything is just as it should be, requires some preliminary arrangements and a lot of extra effort: that is, the effort of finding the Christmas spirit.
Last year, when I was living in Dublin, and after many a futile attempt to get into the cosy Christmas mood, I realised that the most effective way to achieve the festive spirit is to find nice Christmassy lights and stare at them as long as you can without people around you thinking you are an imbecile. Yes, there is a fine balance between childish amazement and a stare of an imbecile, as I was to discover.
Now, living in London, you’d think that finding Christmassy lights to stare at is an easy task, but no, it is not. I’ve of course seen the lights in, for example, Oxford Street, and I did gaze upon them with awe and child-like enthusiasm verging on the side of being an imbecile. The festive spirit was almost reached, but the moment you take your eyes off the lights, the spirit is gone as thousands of sweaty shoppers bump into you on the street twitching like zombies from one shop to another and another. To me, shopping is the antidote for Christmas spirit, and rarely lights in shopping districts will do the trick (an exemption being Dublin’s Powerscourt Town Centre, which came to rescue in last year’s search for the Christmas spirit).
So, as my local library is closed this week, and I’ve lost my “office” and hence forced to start my Christmas holiday a few days earlier than intended, I decided to check out the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. I woke up optimistic over the adventure: sun just might be shining today! Well, of course, it didn’t, but I was still willing to be whisked away with that cosy and warm, wonderous feeling of Christmas.
The thing is, I’ve heard so many good things about this Winter Wonderland – and hearing good things about anything never turns out to be, well, a good thing. For when have you enjoyed a fabulous meal or read a mind-blowing book when someone has told you that this or that restaurant is fabulous, or this or that book will blow your mind? When something comes highly recommended, it is inherently humane that you will scrutinise all the aspects of the thing recommended, determined to find fault in it, thus proving the world wrong just so that you can say: to me, it was rather a disappointment.
Which was the fate of Hyde Park Winter Wonderland also: a disappointment.
Firstly, I had built up an image of amazingly decorated little wooden huts selling all kinds of Christmassy delicacies from all over the world. In my imagination, I was already buying rye breads, interesting sweets and organic apple ciders for myself and some traditional South American pastries and sweets to my husband. The Christmas would be saved! So certain I was of my shopping success in the park that I agreed on, true to the Christmas spirit, the three pound fee on using the ATM placed on the corner of the area.
Secondly, the weather was really gloomy which made everything look pathetic, and I seriously think that the few kids that were forced to take part the festivities were all crying. Coming from the Land of Christmas (yes, you read it right, THE LAND OF CHRISTMAS), that is Finland, I am used to the sparkling white snow flakes floating from the dark skies around Christmas time, lights put up on every yard and street corner, or more subtle candles flickering on window shelves. But this doesn’t mean that an un-snowy Christmas just wouldn’t do, oh no: I have successfully spent a cosy Christmas in a place as sunny as South Africa, and I managed to get into the spirit.
Oh no, this gloom at Hyde Park was something different than just the lack of snow, sunshine and tasteful decoration. For example, the food and drink situation: unless you go for crêpes or pink chocolate fountains or candy floss (not that I have anything against the crêpes, any sort of chocolate fountains or candy floss), the only option for nutrition seemed to be sausages or bratwursts, or hot dogs with bratwurst. And what it came to beverages, a notice of MULLED WINE SERVED HERE seemed to serve just as an obligatory side note to the more important aspect of the market: the long lines beer taps – which, on the hindsight, were actually quite shiny, and thus if you squint your eyes and look at them hard and concentrate, you just might get into some sort of Christmas spirit. And also look like an imbecile but at this point I did not care.
As I was also alone in the Winter Wonderland, I have to give it the benefit of a doubt: maybe, if enjoyed with friends or family, this wonderous winterland would be what it says to be. But for a lonely Finn it was just too depressing: I spotted another lonely immigrant sweeping the runny mud off the corridors and shovelling it into a wheelbarrow, children’s balloons stuck into treetops (hence the eternal cry also, I believe), bored ticket sales people, and even totally deserted stands for the lack of customers. My timing was bad also: maybe if I went there on a sunny day, or evening time when there’s more people, with friends, laughing, tasting roasted castanets, I could have observed them enjoying their little rides on the roller coasters and winning teddy bears after throwing a ball successfully in a net, or mastering the art of using a big massive red hammer to hit a big massive red button.
But it was not to be, a freelancer’s life can be a hard one, and there I was, all alone in a gloomy London weather, surrounded by bright colours, tacky Christmas decorations and too loud circus music, when everyone else were enjoying their daily grind at the office, and I was left to entertain myself, wondering if the latest article will sell, if I would ever write a good poem, and finally, would I ever get a normal job, doing normal things, and enjoying some innocent fun as the Christmas market in Hyde Park?