Now that Christmas is over and people are reimmersing themselves in the more sober colours of everyday life, we can reflect on the holidays with a slightly more sane detachment than when tinsel-crazed. Hyde Park Winter Wonderland is one example of the madness that strikes us down while we are dazzled by fairy lights, and mugs us while we’re tentatively sipping scalding mulled wine.
An annual Christmas extravaganza put on in Hyde Park by AEG and PWR for the past four years, 2010’s offering doubled its visitor count to well over four million, compared the previous year’s already impressive two million. It also won Visit London’s Consumer Event of the Year.
Running for seven weeks, the fenced-off festive enclosure was an enormous jumble of Germanic ‘traditions’ and flashing rides, topped off by a giant wheel, ice skating, circuses and carnival favourites: the funhouse and ghost train. The event was crammed with determinedly merry parents dragging their children away from a singing moose head mounted on the ‘Bavarian Village’, Winter Wonderland’s large Christmas market. This market sold the sort of obscure trinkets you never see anywhere else. There are also the indispensable funny hat and glove stalls, thanks to which we saw many a child with a knitted pig happily bobbing on their head.
A stint in one of the six person pods on the Giant Observation Wheel whisked you up to view London, but the most exciting view was of the vast attraction itself, laid out in winking Technicolor. The coldest December temperatures in 25 years drove many to seek warmth in the heated tents that housed the cirques. The Winter Cirque invited us into the dreams of a girl whose role for the entire piece seemed to be encouraging us to follow her wide-eyed, open-mouthed delight at the entire spectacle. The audience, including myself, didn’t require a vast amount of persuasion. We left arguing amongst ourselves whether a blindfolded fall from a massive rotating prop was staged or genuine.
Surreal and often tacky, this attraction is easily condemned in my eyes. The complete commercial hijacking of Christmas means that people are willing to pay extortionate prices for Christmas-themed rides and not question the sanity of an ‘XXXL’ portion of chips containing around 9. However, Winter Wonderland was not intended as a traditional, singing around the fire type of Christmas celebration. The brightly-lit site, blasting out ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ from speakers in all directions, offers the tacky but fun brand of Christmas increasingly found in England, and the visitor numbers show that it is adored. And so I cannot criticise it, and will, with a slightly red face, admit that I’ll probably be back in December this year.