Winter Wonderland, London’s biggest Christmas event, has been cancelled. Although you might not think this news would be particularly poignant to a woman approaching 30, writer Megan Murray explains why this is a tragedy for more than just tourists and children.
As the announcement went out yesterday that Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park’s annual festive event, will be cancelled for 2020 I reckon most of London sighed with relief.
You see, although the marketing posters on the Tube would have you believe that Winter Wonderland is the next best thing to Santa’s grotto, in reality I’ve heard many Londoners describe it as a busy, dirty, often drunken nightmare, which makes using public transport in a five-mile radius virtually impossible. In classic ‘Londoner’ style, those who are just trying to get back home after a full-on day at work – not down a plastic cup of mulled wine – tend to grumble about the hordes of merry, Christmas enthusiasts.
And hey, look – I get it. I really do. But I have admit something: I, for one, love Winter Wonderland and I’m bloody gutted it’s not happening this year. For all its perceived faults it still signifies Christmas time for me.
My relationship with Winter Wonderland is personal. The event often opens on 22 November which is my birthday, and the first time I wandered through the fairy lit entrance, pulled along by the crowd, was on this very day. I was in my second year at a London university and had come with a friend visiting from my hometown to see what all the fuss was about.
I vividly remember spending my 20th birthday evening staring out for miles across the glittering lights of London’s skyline, legs dangling, heart racing as I sat terrified at the top of the highest ride. It was the kind that suddenly drops to the ground, leaving you silently screaming and wondering why you ever let someone, who throughout the years, you’ve seen use her own waist belt (back when waist belts were cool, OK) to keep in Sambuca-induced sick on a night out, push you into it. Still, it was thrilling to roam around and explore Hyde Park in a way we never had before, amongst the music and lights.
It’s also the place I had my first ever office party. As an intern at a small interior design start-up, our bosses (who at the time I thought were so grown up, but in reality, were probably the same age – and as clueless – as I am now) invited us all to get pissed on hot cider and slide around the ice rink. It was so silly, ridiculous and fun that actually, no work do has lived up to it since.
I’ve also often employed it as my go-to wintery first date spot. The endless stalls of festive tat (‘magic snow’, anyone?) provide great filler for those awkward moments when the conversation dips, while the buzzy atmosphere can even make an evening with a random from Tinder seem exciting.
And when I got dumped in December, it was Winter Wonderland that my housemates took me to, suggesting that enjoying the festive spirit was crucial to make sure my ex didn’t ruin my Christmas. We headed straight to the German-style beer hall, my friends pulling me onto the dance floor where we jumped around like teenagers at a school disco to Mariah Carey, ABBA and Journey, completely un-phased over how stupid we may have looked.
And so, yes, I love Winter Wonderland. I know it’s tacky, but it’s also fun and unashamedly festive. It’s a marker that the cheeriest season is well and truly here, which to be honest, after the summer we’ve all had is what I was waiting for.
I know it’s naïve to section off bad times into seasons, in fact, it usually irritates me when I see memes along the lines of “Who’s ready to say goodbye to 2020?” as if we can draw a line under natural disasters or pandemics by the turning of a certain date.
But this time, I had let myself slip into the hope that after a depressing summer of isolation, winter and all of the events that come with it – from Bonfire Night to Christmas – was something to focus on and look forward to.
News that Winter Wonderland is cancelled is a reminder that life isn’t really returning back to normal, but I won’t let it get me down. It’s true this Christmas won’t be like last year’s but it can still be brilliant if we focus on spending time quality time with smaller groups, instead of big, bustling crowds. And after all, we can always hope for next year.
Main image: Getty