The spirit of Christmas is definitely on the air. The day after Halloween, festive decorations are filling up the shelves of the UK high street stores and large shopping malls. I kicked off my Christmas shopping at the Festive Gift Fair in Birmingham recently. I was curious about what unique products I may find in shows like this.
The car park was almost full when we arrived before mid-day. That’s normally a good sign for a well-attended event. The show’s buses were busy taking turns in servicing people to and from the main entrance of the NEC. As I made my way in with the flock of enthusiastic incoming visitors, the early birds were already exiting the hall with big plastic bags full of decors and gift items. They must be here before the doors opened.
Seeing this many people in a gift fair event reminded me of the difference in the Christmas celebration between my native country Philippines and the UK. In the Philippines, Christmas panic buying is focused mostly on food to prepare for the Noche Buena on Christmas eve, where a family has a festive meal at midnight of the 24th in celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. People shop early for cooking ingredients and other festive and specialty goods like cooked ham before the goods run out. Christmas decoration is not as elaborate as in the UK. Families on a tighter budget would spend most of the Christmas budget on noche buena rather than gifts or decoration. If there is extra money left after food, only the children will get Christmas presents.
(Photo is not mine)
Here in the UK, British families splurge hundreds of pounds on gifts more than food for the Christmas family meal on Christmas Day. Deloitte’s 2018 consumer survey in 10 European countries says that the UK spends an average of £567 each for Christmas and the majority of the spending is on gifts. Their report also showed that the UK is the highest spending market in Europe ahead of Spain (£526) and Austria (£475).
During the Victorian period, gift-giving in the UK had traditionally been at New Year but it was moved as Christmas became more important to the Victorians. Initially, gifts were rather modest. Christmas stocking fillers were fruit, nuts, sweets and maybe small handmade trinkets. However, as gift giving became more central to the Christmas celebration, the gifts became bigger and shop-bought (BBC). In modern-day Britain, buying gifts is on a different level. It’s not surprising nowadays to find an expensive mobile phone, pieces of jewelry or a handsome amount of a luxury gift card in a Christmas stocking. UK’s appetite for Christmas spending is clearly demonstrated here at Hall 5 of the NEC on this gift-buying event.
The Festive Gift Fair was in one big hall with more than 300 stalls. The hall was transformed into a magical Christmas Market or Christmas village in the warmth and rain-free venue. Visitors were mostly families; from babies on the prams to teens and adults of all ages including grandmas and grandpas. The merchandise was a wide variety of Christmas home accessories and Christmas tree decors, fashion accessories, toys, food, and drinks.
These big trendy guys up here are quite popular. I’ve seen quite a number of people taking one of these around in big plastic bags. These would look good in cozy country homes.
These charming nutcracker figurines are hard to ignore. According to the German tradition, nutcrackers symbolizes strength and power. They are like guardians of the house-holds, protecting the family from evil spirits. Nutcracker dolls originated from the 17th Century Germany. They became popular in other European countries during the 19th century.
There’s something for the outdoor as well. These are ideal for residential and commercial places, in fact, the smaller one would look good in smaller shops windows.
At the center of the hall are tables and chairs and a stage for entertainers. It’s really useful that the organizers put a relaxing area here apart from cafes and restaurants, where people can have a rest from walking about and enjoy lunch or snacks, drinks, and entertainment. The hall is like a small Christmas town where people share the Christmas spirit. Some wore Christmassy tops, hats, reindeer turbans and few women happily wearing a battery-operated Christmas lights choker. It was such a brilliant atmosphere.
As well as a great array of Christmas gifts and decors, there was a good selection of food and drinks too. The food was a mixture of something you can eat whilst on the show and some are packed for taking home for family’s consumption or for gift-giving.
This group of young gentlemen singing carols makes the day a real festive family day out; lifting up people’s moods all day.
These gentlemen here were roaming around the hall, serenading people and happily posing as backdrops for selfies. It was such a fun day.
Even if you don’t buy any gifts and decors, families can still enjoy the day out in the giant snow globe. Children were loving them.
Most of the stalls accept cash only. Cash machines are available inside the hall, so no cash worries there but of course it’s good to watch the budget.
Public shows like this always come with paid parking. At the NEC it is £16.00 pounds/day, paid at the kiosk inside the NEC premises before leaving the venue. There is no machine at the car park and guards do not accept payments. I have not seen one who paid at the guardhouse. You do not need to remember your car registration number to pay for the parking, which makes paying quicker and stress-free. With 16,000 parking spaces on-site, finding a slot is hassle-free. This is what I love about the NEC, visiting by car and exiting from the premises is convenient. On big trade shows, the parking is even free.
Buses on site
For small shows, normally there are limited buses servicing from the car parks to the main entrance of the venue. They come every 15 minutes but stop running an hour after the show closes. In case you miss them, the car parks are within walking distance from the main entrance/exit.
The venue is one of the largest in the UK. It is easily accessible from the motorway, airport or train station. The staff working at the venue were very polite and helpful. They guide people to their respective exits. There are coffee shops, restaurants, and convenience stores inside the building and there are hotels on-site. On bigger shows, organizers sometimes have paramedics on-site.
This show is managed by Orchard Events Limited.