It’s that time of the year again. Street lights, shaped like mistletoes and reindeers, twinkling all across roads, revellers in santa hats and Rudolph’s antlers exchanging amused glances at traffic stops, restaurants and cafes boasting festive menus and more than a few merrymakers tumbling out of pubs with the eternal, ahem, Christmas cheer.
Not to forget, the most joyous of all, Christmas markets. Where the frantic sizzling of street grub wafts overhead while oversized, fluffy soft toys outside game stalls beg for a new home, toddlers crowd a big-bellied Santa and the belle of the ball, the bushy ol’ Christmas tree, sways softly to the sound of carols. Be it Kolkata’s New Market and Bandra’s Hill Road or London’s winter wonderland, Christmas markets across the world offer a haven of visual delights to merrymakers and grinches alike.
But in 2020, Christmas is different. Christmas celebrations across the world have either been cancelled, transformed or subdued. While many of the famed Christmas markets have been called off this year, some have taken their festivities online. Only a handful are going ahead with pre-pandemic pomp, albeit with an uncompromising list of precautions in tow.
The brainchild of 30-year-old Mark Whithorn, the Derby Virtual Christmas Market spread Christmas cheer, while observing the precautions now rendered commonplace by our current crisis. Whiton’s aim was to help out small businesses by asking people to buy from them this Christmas, a feat which seems to have worked considering they seem to have “tripled or quadrupled” what they would normally make. The market was held across three stretches through December this year: December 4-6; December 10-13 and December 18-23. Virtual buyers could choose from a mixture of local handicrafts, food and other delights, as the market pitched tent outdoors in line with social distancing norms.
After a lot of deliberation, Chicago’s Christkindlmarket, on its 25th anniversary, decided to go virtual this year, with its “Home for the Holidays” bonanza, which features an online marketplace with products by global vendors, family-friendly events and fun-filled games for children. With news of Christmas markets across the world being shut down after opening, the organisers worried about the massive financial hits that would be faced by their vendors should they succumb to the same fate.
Using last year’s video footage, this famous Christmas market in Vienna transports viewers into a virtual world of festivities. With its uplifting holiday music, the tour, which takes one through the entrance gates, excited shoppers and glittering stalls, is a remembrance of what Christmas before the pandemic was like and what it hopes to be again.
Other Virtual Celebrations: Bath Christmas Market, U.K.; Great Dickens Christmas Fair, San Francisco, U.S.A.
Tying up with the reopening of its Oxford Street store post-lockdown, Selfridges is hosting its first-ever open-air Christmas market. The departmental store claims to be adhering to all COVID-19 protocol for the safety of those visiting the market, who can expect the best of London’s street food and family-friendly fairground rides.
Conscious of not using the term ‘market’ to incite panic, a Schulte & Schulte events business has set up the ‘Lindenthal Winter Village,’ a celebratory mulled wine and Christmas snacks stall, outside the four-star Leonardo Royal Hotel Köln – Am Stadtwald. The Schulte brothers’ Christmas market comes with the extra helping of picturesque views and minimal crowding. Decked with all the festive bells and whistles, as “Jingle Bell Rock” plays on loud and repeat, the stall gives passersby the option to stop for a quick second, pick up mulled wine and be on their way.
The Downtown Holiday Market in the heart of Washington D.C. had little to plan in terms of health and safety protocols, as they were already in place from spring when a flea market was held at the location. Located close to the Smithsonian Museum, this one is usually a crowd-puller for the on-foot traffic.
Also Open: Viennese Dream Christmas Market, Austria; Basel Christmas Market, Switzerland; Strasbourg Christmas Market, France.
For a country whose roughly 3,000 Christmas markets provide an economic boost to its varying communities, Germany has been hit substantially by the call to subdue this year’s celebrations. Christmas markets alone ushered in nearly $3.5 billion last year, according to the German Association of Fairground Employees.
One of its oldest Christmas markets, the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt dating back to 1628, has been called off this year. The historic market, which lures in almost two million visitors to Nuremberg annually, usually transforms the city’s main square, two weeks ahead of Christmas, with red-and-white-striped stalls, handcrafted offerings in pretty boxes, meats and sausages crackling on open grills. The last time the market had been cancelled was during the Second World War, when it was put on pause until 1948. Naturally, the market came to represent hope, providing joy for a country that had been ravaged by the war. Markets across the country, including those in Frankfurt, Dortmund and even in Berlin, have suffered the same fate.
While the Nottingham Christmas market opened in the beginning of December, it was later abruptly shut since too many people showed up on the very first weekend, making social distancing an almost impossible task. Despite every COVID-19 protocol imaginable in effect, the numbers were too much for the city council and its volunteers to handle.
Kolkata’s old and historic New Market transforms into something out of a tinsel-town musical during Christmas every year. Lush green Christmas trees tower towards the heavens, as visitors flock to Nahoums, the city’s famed Jewish bakery, for a month’s supply of chocolate fudge and rum balls. This year however, the central rotunda of the market remains bare, breaking with a tradition of over 60 years.
Cancelled: Bath, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh and Belfast, U.K.
Sanjana Ray is that unwarranted tour guide people groan about on trips. When she isn't geeking out on travel and history, she can be found walking around the streets, crying for Bengali food. She is former Digital Writer at National Geographic Traveller India.