Christmas fairs and how to avoid them

There are few contemporary evils more pernicious than the Christmas Fair. If you live in Krakow you just have to accept that a particularly virulent incarnation of the phenomenon takes over the otherwise blameless main market square for much of December. These days I avoid going anywhere near the center of town between October and February just to be on the safe side, but I have been enveloped by its cheesy jinglings in the past so I know what I’m talking about.

A Christmas Fair, in case you enjoy a blessed state of ignorance, is essentially a method of inducing innocent human beings into standing around in the freezing cold looking at overpriced tat. Otherwise sane people are enticed to fly halfway across Europe in bright orange sardine cans to shuffle around stalls loaded down with the kind of ludicrous objects they would be heartily disappointed to receive as gifts. They then buy these objects, fly back across half of Europe and give them to people they love. Apparently this is “Christmassy.”

christmas fair

Notice how the hot wine stall is shaped like a giant barrel of beer… I mean wine

The kind of doomed souls who write copy for inflight magazines get very excited by Christmas Fairs. Phrases such as “a cornucopia of gift ideas for Christmas – ranging from handmade arts and crafts to original clothing and decorations” are not uncommon revealing both a serious misunderstanding of the word “cornucopia” as well as tendency to mistake the “from… to” construction for a comprehensive list. There is nothing else apart from handmade arts and crafts and original clothing; “original” in this sense meaning “amusing for about 5 seconds but not something you would ever consider being seen dead in” and “handmade” meaning “churned out by the crate full in Bulgaria.” At any other time of the year all of this stuff is safely stored in the kind of tourist gift shops that only the most obese of American tourists would consider entering, like the Sukiennice.

Defenders of the Christmas Fair often respond to my unprovoked rantings on the subject by pointing out that you can buy nice burgers and hot wine there. This is entirely true, I retort, but by far a better way of buying appetizing meat and alcoholic beverages in the middle of December is to go into one of those conveniently fully enclosed and heated buildings dedicated to their production called restaurants. Queuing in freezing fog for an overpriced paper cup of bad wine is not something that fills my dreaming hours.

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39 thoughts on “Christmas fairs and how to avoid them

  1. bob says:

    I agree however the caveat refers only to Polish Christmas Markets which are exactly as you state. In addition they are repetitive and do not change from year to year. Boring as heck.

    The markets that are fun are in Vienna, all around Germany and believe it or not we went to a great one on the small island in the city of Manchester last year.

  2. ania says:

    I like the Christmas Fair on Kraków Main Squere! Always when I go there I just can’t leave – everything is so tempting! Maybe it is just because I am a woman and I can find a lot of nice looking pices of jewellery there…

    Anyway – I much prefer these fairs then all the decorations in Galeria Krakowska.

  3. MaterialGirl says:

    “These days I avoid going anywhere near the center of town between October and February”

    so, who took the pic? :D

  4. guest says:

    Usual polandian-expat rant…It is getting boring already. I feel sorry for all the Polish wives who have to listen all day long about how bad everything in Krakow, Warsaw or wherever is.

    Just Move to Germany or Vienna and pay 5 euro for a banana with chocolate on their gorgeous christmas markets. Maybe it will make you feel happy again.

  5. Tony says:

    Ania – good point, I couldn’t agree more. Then again, I’d prefer almost anything to GK these days.

    Guest – ouch, sounds like somebody just lost a Polish wife to an expat who could afford 5 euro for a chocolate banana :-) If you can write a more interesting rant I’d love to see it.

  6. Bartek says:

    Island, I thought those are Poles who excel at grumbling, but you’re trying to keep level with us.

    And taunt Scatts – he was so delighted with the Christmas lights which are the evident waste of electricity, when the bills are paid from our taxes ;)

  7. Scatts says:

    Bart, I did notice that most of them are low voltage stuff, LEDs and so forth and I’d rather them waste money on something everyone can enjoy than on another 10,000 red/white striped poles, for example!

    guest, can’t you see it’s not a rant? Island clearly has an issue with ALL Christmas fayres, not just Polski ones.

    5 EUR for a banana with chocolate?! Is it yummy Swiss chocolate though, or that crap Wedel stuff? :-)
    (Not an anti-Polish rant as the company used to be PepsiCo and is now Cadbury)

  8. guest says:

    No Tony, my Polish GF is still there. I am just irritaded by shallow comments like “Dubai” “Vienna market” or whatever is great and Krakow is boring as heck.

    Comments like this are just so typical for british and US expats who do not realize that Vienna is great b/c naive tourists buy kitchy trash or a banana, beer…for 5 EUR. And in Krakow they want both. A “not boring as heck” christmas market, a “champs elysees illumination”…but prices like in a Polish village.

  9. island1 says:

    It’s true that my experience of Christmas Fairs is limited. Perhaps there is hope after all.

  10. island1 says:

    Damn, my cunning subterfuge has been uncovered.

  11. island1 says:

    I went to Krakow Christmas Fair. It was very nice. It wasn’t at all cold, there were many interesting things I wanted to buy or receive as gifts and everybody was extremely polite to me.


  12. island1 says:

    What’s wrong with red and white striped poles? Why don’t you get back to England with its “far superior” red, white, and blue stripped poles that cost ten times as much!

  13. Bartek says:

    if try, it doesn’t bode well…

  14. Bartek says:

    Warsaw’s getting with the times.

    Unlike me, my Christmas light which light up my X-mas tree each year were produced in 1972 in Spółdzielnia inwalidów w Szczecinie and they still work!

  15. Scatts says:

    I do have fond memories of British posts.

    Guest, good link thanks!

    Of course, the answer is to have more traffic wardens combined with better educated drivers and higher fines.

  16. Scatts says:

    Guest, you do realise that were “Polandian” based in Vienna and called “Austandian”, this post would hardly be any different? Or do you really have the impression that our main purpose in life is to slag off Poland?

  17. Pistefka says:

    The expression you are looking for is “the moon on a stick.”

    Of course you are right – British expats complain far too much. I hold up my hands and fully admit it. However, do remember two things:

    1. Brits complain just as much at home.
    2. Brits are only poklite and nice about people they don’t like, ergo taking the piss is a sign of affection.

    Incidentally, although formerly an expat in Bielsko-Biala and Cieszyn I am now an expat in Budapest, and complain just as much as I did w Polsce. Often about the same things – such as those stupid saucepans with tiny heat-conducting handles which make it so difficult to stir their contenets without either burning yourself, setting foire to the teatowel or knocking the pan off the hob. Yes they have those here too.

    Its swings and roundabout though (to continue the idioms theme) – I’d rather struggle with stupid saucepans and bewilderingly bad Christmas markets in Central Europe than have to worry about violent street crime in the UK or listen to people saying “you guys” because they aren’t comfortable with “you” when used as a plural. Or a litany of other evils.

  18. Pistefka says:

    Spot the typos

  19. island1 says:

    I agree absolutely. I write these things as a form of entertainment. It’s not a kind of humor that always goes down well here among our Polish readers, but it’s very common in English. Scatts is right, I would use exactly the same methods were I living anywhere else, including the UK.

    Over the years I’ve been writing here I have learned to be much more sensitive to cheap cliches about Poland and I understand that was a worthwhile lesson. Depressingly the reflex assumption that we are just being rude and sneering out of some misplaced arrogance seems to be as strong as ever.

    By the way, don’t think I haven’t thought about expanding the franchise, but unfortunately the only one that works is “Hollandian.”

  20. island1 says:

    All very true. The otherness of a culture that isn’t your own is always a rich source of chuckles. Poles do this about the UK all the time and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

  21. guest says:

    Island and Scatts it is NOT about you. I was annoyed by Bob’s comment | December 7, 2009, 3:04 pm.

    I also hate christmas markets (no matter if Warsaw or Vienna)just like you, and your blog entry was absolutely OK.

  22. guest says:

    Poles do not do it. If Poles have a problem with british swans for example, they just catch and eat them. Problem solved. ;)

  23. wildphelps says:

    “At any other time of the year all of this stuff is safely stored in the kind of tourist gift shops that only the most obese of American tourists would consider entering, like the Sukiennice.”

    I take offense (that’s right “offense” with an “s”) at this. There are plenty of slim, well-built, chunky, or fat American tourists who would be just as easily lured into such places. Let’s not pick on obese Americans – they have enough problems what with the obesity and all. Too much food can kill (see any number of blogs about Wigilia or Monty Python), and we should not make light of it (no pun intended as I am not that clever). Besides the obesity, obese Americans are just getting over 8 years of life in Dick Cheney’s America…bright lights and shiny objects can be distracting

  24. Scatts says:

    Thanks for clearing that up, guest.

    What do you say we start a “Ban the Bob” campaign?


  25. Scatts says:

    Offense with an “s”? Gosh, whatever next…. defense? Bloody colonials! ;-)

  26. Baduin says:

    I always considered that the what the various “fairs” and similar events organized on the Main Market in Cracow lack most is a high pole smeared with lard, with a bottle of vodka an a cut of pork fat on top, for people to climb on.

    This way, we would have the full experience of a traditional small village “odpust” or “jarmark”.

    (The Eglish word for “odpust” seems to be “parish fair”, and for “jarmark” “village fair”, but they lack the exact emotional overtone).

  27. island1 says:

    Ooops. Hoisted by my own petard.

    Apologies for the misunderstanding

  28. adthelad says:

    ‘Odpust’ is better translated as ‘indulgence’ however in Poland the word has grown to mean the ‘festivities’ that took place around religious events that marked these, and hence its developed colloquial use for associated markets.

  29. adthelad says:

    OK, I’ll bite :)

    How about Englandian, Scotlandian, Irelandian or Swazilandian? Surely the franchise would apply to all countries whose name ends in ‘land’?

  30. pinolona says:

    If you pay me lots, I will move down the road to Utrecht and start ‘Hollandian’…
    Best healthcare in Europe PLUS you can grow weed on your balcony: what’s not to love?!

  31. phlumox says:

    Go play cricket!

  32. island1 says:

    In December? Have you taken leave of your senses?

  33. pinolona says:

    no, really, I don’t think it’s any colder there than here. Oh sorry did you mean the cricket? I believe this is lacrosse season so what Phlumox meant to say was ‘go play lacrosse’.

  34. tee says:

    They are supposed to kick out all fairs and basically all things that aren’t too ‘grand’ or ‘cultured’ for Rynek to Mały Rynek. Or Plac Szczepanski. I sure hope they will. It’s amusing for a few moments, but if someone has to cross it two or three times – like me – then it quickly becomes annoying.

  35. bob says:

    banned again – aw shucks!

  36. Neil says:

    An “Indulgence Fair” Now that has endless possibilities. I do like good indulge, especially where cultural and semantic difference are involved.

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