by Bob Barton (Courtesy of VisitBritain.com)
- Dickensian characters in top-hats, ladies in bonnets and full-length dresses.
The scenes could be straight out of a box of old-fashioned Christmas cards. Dickensian characters in top-hats, ladies in bonnets and full-length dresses; chimney-sweeps and street urchins stroll past shops and inns decorated for the festive season. Flakes of snow float past a medieval castle and cathedral onto groups of carol-singers and warmly wrapped ice-skaters. Christmas trees and colourful lights everywhere; roast chestnuts and mulled wine being enjoyed.
These aren’t images from long ago but memories of last year’s Dickensian Christmas in Rochester, Kent, an hour south-east of London. This compact city beside the river Medway has many links with writer Charles Dickens–not least that he lived and wrote there for many years–and the parade of his fictional characters along the High Street is one of the highlights of the annual free event (4–5 Dec 2005).
Rochester’s fun-filled extravaganza is just one of a growing number of Christmas markets and themed events held in towns and cities all over Britain. Each year there seems to be another historic location added to the annual roll-call of places celebrating in style. They all offer opportunities for Christmas shopping in historic settings, with plenty of merry-making into the bargain!
These are not only good opportunities to buy gifts but also a chance to enjoy British Yuletide festivities and traditions. Cathedrals, abbeys, castles are the backdrops, and many people dress in period costume.
One of the best-known events is in Lincoln, which claims to be Europe’s biggest Christmas Market (1–4 Dec 2005). Held in a cobbled square overlooked by its floodlit 12th century cathedral, more than 300 stalls offer a variety of gifts and produce.
- Scottish capital Edinburgh
In the Scottish capital Edinburgh, Princes Street Gardens–with its magnificent castle backdrop–is setting for a German-style Christmas market, ice-rink, big wheel and carousel. It’s part of a month of events called Edinburgh’s Capital Christmas (25 Nov–24 Dec 2004) which also includes a “Santa Extravaganza” in Festival Square. The city also spreads its New Year celebrations over four days and nights, with at least one big free event daily: Edinburgh’s Hogmanay runs from 29 December 2004 to 1 January 2005.
You can also sample rural delights amid the bustle of the capital city when London’s Kew Gardens is transformed into a magical world of lights, music and family entertainment. The event (26 Nov 2005 to 2 Jan 2006) includes late-night opening, shopping, ice-rink, live music, guided walks and more.
The British expression “having a Dickens of a good time” is never more appropriate than when at one of these atmospheric events. Everyone seems intent on having a fun time, despite the crowds that sometimes result from their popularity. Just like Oliver Twist, you’ll be asking for “more” if you go.