Let’s be honest, Canterbury has a reputation for not doing a great job of Christmas. Despite being home to the seat of the Church of England with 25 million members worldwide, the city’s Christmas efforts have always fallen slightly wide of the mark – in previous years anyway.
So how does the 2018 Christmas market compare to previous incarnations?
Taking a stroll among the quaint wooden huts, I was pleasantly surprised by the improvement on previous years. In February the council became the outright owner of the Whitefriars shopping precinct, so this year presented an opportunity to marry up Whitefriars with the market on St George’s Street.
And they haven’t done a bad job. The wooden cabins are an advance on the usual market stalls, and there are some excellent arts, crafts and delicacies on offer.
Needless to say, there are still the obligatory cheap handbags, naff Christmas jumpers, and stalls selling multipacks of batteries and cigarette lighters which really bring the place down, but by and large the quality is – and forgive the pun – streets ahead of what it used to be.
Of particular note are the enclosed seating areas where shoppers can enjoy a glass of mulled wine and sample treats from the food stalls, many of which will be familiar to anyone who’s attended the Canterbury Food & Drink Festival.
A particular shout out goes to the Naughty Egg, which has to be one of my favourites. A fried egg and haloumi. Who knew it was so good?
Sadly, it’s not all positive news. The streets are in desperate need of a clear up. Litter and piles of wet leaves are everywhere. Admittedly that might have something to do with it being autumn, but how hard would it be to sweep around the stalls each morning?
And one can’t help feeling that the stalls are a bit sparse. There are lots of gaps, and the market only covers the top end of town. Members of the Business Improvement District (BID) whose businesses lie near the Westgate or along the King’s Mile will surely be wondering why nothing has been done to encourage market visitors to wander further around town.
There’s also the question of the Christmas lights. Are they awful? No. Are they impressive? Definitely not.
Christmas lights need to be over-the-top. That doesn’t mean tacky, but if they are to have the desired effect, they need to wow visitors and they really don’t.
There’s a strong commercial argument for this. Some traders will take 50% of their annual revenue over the Christmas period. In this period of high street decline, cities like Canterbury need to be pulling out all the stops. Wouldn’t it be great if children would say to their parents “next year Mummy, can we go and see the lights in Canterbury?”.
Unfortunately, the lights feel like a box ticking exercise rather than a creative expression of the magic of this ancient city.
This doesn’t mean that the market isn’t worth a visit. I will certainly be going back to do some Christmas shopping and I’ll be looking to get a babysitter, so Mrs Lister and I can pop down in the evening to enjoy a wintry tipple.
This year’s Christmas market is significantly better than last year’s. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but we’re heading in the right direction. Canterbury, go forth and enjoy. It’s so much better than Amazon!
Alex Lister lives in Canterbury with his wife and children. He is a writer, political campaigner, digital communications professional and hospital governor. Alex is the Managing Director of the Canterbury Journal.