Love 'em or hate 'em, the Christmas Markets are now as much a part of the Manchester calendar as the Literature Festival, the Food and Drink Festival, and Mr Liz's annual pilgrimage to the black pudding stall at Bury Market where - if his behaviour for the year is found to bear scrutiny - he is allowed the double thrill of a hot one to eat there and then AND a cold one to take home.
Not everyone loves the Markets, however, and I myself am still pretty much undecided on whether they constitute a Jolly Good Thing or a Bit of a Damp Squib. Let us consider the whole conundrum in a scientific and objective manner for a moment...
Manchester Christmas Markets: Cons
1. Too many people. It's all very well to wake up on a festive morn, full of Christmas cheer and just in the mood to visit the Markets, but what you have not taken into account is that half of Manchester and the surrounding area have woken up with the exact same thought. The Albert Square Market opens at 10am, and if you want to get within a metre or two of ANY of the stalls (except for those one or two forlorn traders who never seem to get any custom at all, with their luridly painted glass and nauseatingly winsome clocks) then you really do have to think about getting there soon after this time. This year, the Markets have apparently been more popular than ever, and so whilst there are more sites than previous years to try to thin out excess traffic, this is still a fearsomely competitive arena - so get those elbows sharpened. If you have a shopping trolley or pram to use as a battering ram, so much the better.
2. The Manchester weather. All those people mean that there is no chance whatsoever of putting up an umbrella without causing serious injury to innocent bystanders. Crisp and clear = excellent Market weather; typical Manchester drizzle = stay at home with Saturday Kitchen.
3. Lack of Variety. There ARE some lovely stalls at the Markets, selling beautiful handmade jewellery, fragrant soaps and body products, cute toys and gifts, and delectable food and drink items. But they don't really change from year to year, nor from site to site - go round Albert Square, walk down Brazennose Street, then back up King Street, and you will have seen more woolly hats with animal faces on than you ever thought possible.
4. That Father Christmas. Now, I am something of a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas, and that includes my choice of Santa: he should be a big, fat, twinkly, rosy-cheeked old gentleman in a red suit - preferably made from a quality velour - and properly sturdy black boots. He should NOT be a strangely startled-looking creature with more than a passing resemblance to (the now sadly deceased) Zippy from Rainbow. This unfortunate individual sits dolefully above the Market in Albert Square and, frankly, frightens me more than just a little - he most certainly is not welcome down my chimney this Christmas.
5. Finishing before actual Christmas. Every year the Markets pack up and move on a few days before Christmas - this year they end on Wednesday 21st December, forcing hapless men across Manchester to do their last-minute panic Christmas Eve shop elsewhere. Selfish, just selfish.
Manchester Christmas Markets: Pros
1. Interesting alcohol at any time of day. Obviously, it's the law to drink as much mulled wine during the month of December as humanly possible, but the Markets have introduced a hitherto unknown treat to me - hot chocolate with a dash of brandy, covered with squirty cream. If you have followed my advice about getting to the Markets early, I can confirm that these taste excellent at any time from 10.30am onwards.
2. Pig in a Bun. Clearly, the concept of pig-in-a-bun is a sound one at any time of the year, but there is nothing better than the soft white roll filled to bursting with chunks of pork, stuffing and apple sauce served up at the Christmas Market. And once you've mastered the art of consuming it in a graceful manner, standing up, trying to maintain a vestige of lipgloss, wedged between 2,000 other people also eating Pig Buns, you'll have learnt a skill to be proud of.
3. It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Truth be told, the rigorous academic debate so strenuously explored above is completely irrelevant, pleasingly intellectual as it is: I go to the Christmas Markets EVERY year, and will continue to do so forever more, just because a trip to Albert Square to get pushed, and squashed, and trampled, and pay a £2 deposit for a mug that will eventually join the 27 identical ones in your kitchen cupboard, means that IT'S CHRISTMAS. So, unpack your straw reindeer with pride, for now it's time to pour yourself a small sherry and watch It's A Wonderful Life, secure in the knowledge that everything is how it should be.
- for more information on the Manchester Christmas Markets, visit the Manchester City Council website; you can even catch a little glimpse of Zippy Christmas...