Exporting the Christmas market
Nicole Rahimi from Zwickau organises one of the most successful Christmas markets in the UK and has firmly established this festive tradition in the English city of Oxford.
If you really want something but just can’t find it, you can grumble and moan. Or you can roll up your sleeves and make it happen, like Nicole Rahimi did. Saxon by birth, Rahimi comes from Zwickau at the foot of the Erzgebirge mountains – a region also known as the Land of Christmas. “I love Christmas! It’s a wonderful time of year and I’ve enjoyed it ever since I was a child. To me, the festive season means Schwibbogen candle arches, incense candles, stollen and a stroll around the Christmas market,” says the 37-year-old. “When I moved to London with my husband and young daughter in 2004, I was really shocked to find there was nothing really special about the run-up to Christmas, unlike back home in Germany. There weren’t many traditional Christmas markets around then.” Two years later, the family moved to Oxford when Rahimi’s husband took up a research post there. But the city of dreaming spires had no Christmas markets either.
Research, plan, action!
Event manager Rahimi started to think about organising her own Christmas market. She researched all the ins and outs, plucked up the courage and without further ado took the plunge on her own. Rahimi sought out a suitable location in Oxford for her Christmas market, applied for permission from the city council and had stalls built at her own expense. “None of the traders had their own stall because there was no tradition of Christmas markets in England,” she says. So Rahimi borrowed money from her family and invested it, taking the attitude of nothing ventured, nothing gained. Her first market consisted of 30 stalls on the historic square in the middle of Oxford Castle. “I was so happy when we finished setting up the market for the very first time. It looked magical with all the beautiful Christmas decorations against the stunning backdrop of the castle.” It was a great start. The weekends went well and lots of visitors came to the market. But numbers dwindled during the week, as the castle is quite tucked away on the edge of the city centre. Over the next few years, Nicole Rahimi stepped up her marketing efforts, launched creative promotional campaigns and forged links with tour operators. However, after three years she was forced to realise that the location was just not right.
Oxford Christmas market: from zero to 100,000 visitors
“I was close to giving up in 2012,” admits the event manager. Oxford City Council didn’t want to grant a permit for her preferred venue in the centre of the city, but Rahimi persisted and started an online petition, quickly collecting 1,200 signatures from supporters and fans of the Christmas market. Finally, after a great deal of toing and froing, the authorities gave her the go-ahead in 2013 to hold the market in Broad Street, right in the centre of Oxford. And Rahimi’s gut feeling turned out to be right: the central location attracted thousands of visitors even during the week, with 100,000 coming to the market in 10 days. It was a huge success for the organiser and for the city. The Oxford Christmas market now draws visitors from far and wide. “The longest queue is always at the German bratwurst stall,” says Nicole Rahimi, with a grin. “There’ll be 48 stalls this year and a little carousel for the children.” Clubs and schools have also been invited to take part in a Christmas programme. Rahimi intends to get fully involved in putting up the decorations again in 2014. “It’s very important to me because I have my own ideas of how everything should look. It needs to look a little bit like the Christmas markets back home in Saxony.”