Hog roasts, bratwurst, crepes, hip hop clothing, doughnuts, mulled wine, hats, beer, posters, hot chocolate, liquorice and cuddly toys. It would be fair to claim that Southampton’s Christmas market, held every year in the town centre, offers an eclectic selection to the passing public.
Rows of wooden stalls have been peddling their wares outside West Quay since the 18th of November and will continue right up to the New Year. Much of the food and gifts are brought in from Germany – the market has up until now been named the German market – but this year there is representation from an extravagant array of other countries.
Idan spends most of the year in Granada as a waiter in a tapas restaurant. Every winter he comes to pass the time standing in the freezing temperatures of Southampton, selling woollen products. At least his head doesn’t get cold – there are hats galore piled up in his cramped stall. All of his stock is handmade by chosen communities in the Himalayan region, employing a system he calls ‘Personal Trading’ (“It’s not Fairtrade; Fairtrade is a LIE” the usually placid Spaniard hisses at me). The combination of the golden light that spills out from his stall and his rainbow-coloured wool means he catches the eye of much passing trade. My interview with him is interrupted several times as he serves customers.
Tracey’s till is not being rung so frequently but she assures me that trade will pick up by the weekend – it always does.
“The problem is that the shops on the high street close too early” she laments. “Then everyone goes home. We could really do with more support from the businesses to be honest”.
Tracey, who can be found in the summertime on a Greek island, has been here every year since the German market began in Southampton in 2003. She sells an extraordinary assortment of gifts at her stall, from tea-light holders to salt crystal lamps to tiny ceramic souvenirs made in Frankfurt. She proudly informs me that there’s something for everyone, though I’d venture to suggest that it’s a particularly suitable outlet for men on Christmas Eve frantically searching for a half-decent present for their wives.
Next door to Tracey is one of the stalwarts of the market. The ingeniously titled ‘Xmas Meeting Point’ sells a wide variety of warm drinks and its benches are crammed every evening with students thawing out. It has a genuinely festive atmosphere, infused with the smells of mulled wine and hot chocolate as well as the distinct aroma of Bratwurst sizzling nearby.
“It’s just a bit different to your normal high street coffee shop” says Elli, one of the waitresses. “We’ve noticed recently that a lot of you students seem to use this place for drinking before a night out.”
The Christmas Market is ultimately still a chain of businesses, looking to squeeze every last penny out of giddy tourists and frozen locals. But at this time of year, having your pennies squeezed is an inevitability, so you may as well spend your last evenings of this term having them squeezed in style in the town centre. Oh and if you have a fondness for your fingertips, bring gloves. Idan will be happy to supply you with the hat.