Finding the Joy of Childhood at London’s Winter Wonderland Carnival

If Weisbaden is the quintessential Christmas market, then London’s Winter Wonderland is the exact opposite. While it had some minor nods to the idea of the German Christmas Market, it, by and large, was nothing like the first market we visited.

Sprawling throughout Hyde Park, London’s Winter Wonderland faire is beyond massive. I knew it would be large since it’s in the capital and since Hyde park is one of the largest parks in the city, but I had no idea just quite how large it was going to be until we got there. As far as the eye could see there were rides and stalls and people. So. Many. People.

Looking for things to do in London that wouldn’t cost a ton of money, my sister and I decided to take her daughters, her husband and Tim to the faire. After a day full of shopping and visiting the London Eye, we took the tube to the Marble Arch station and entered the market on the North East corner of the park. A seven minute walk and we were in the heart of a sparkling, buzzing carnival with people of all ages drinking, eating and riding rides. We almost didn’t know where to start, but then, dead ahead from the entrance, a mulled wine stall. After the acquisition of mulled wine we strolled through the market area. Few stalls lined the walkway, selling things like hand carved wooden ornaments, personzaliable clay ornaments, and more useful things on a chilly night like scarves, gloves and beanie hats. But really, not many people seemed to be into the shopping. Unlike the Christmas markets in Edinburgh and Weisbaden, people weren’t there to shop. They were there to drink, ride carnival rides (both children and adults) and ice skate, and watch one of the shows. Which kind of confused me at first but I didn’t put too much thought into it, we had two little girls begging to ride rides.

While we wavered back and forth about letting the kids ride some rides, a nice lady, in the spirit of Christmas gave us two left over tokens that her daughter wasn’t going to use since they were leaving. Well, that settled it then. The girls were going to ride and my brother in law went to purchase some more tokens to have enough for both girls. When he returned with 10 pounds of tokens I was expecting that the girls would get a decent amount of rides maybe five or more each, but to my astonishment, each token cost a pound! Now, a pound seems paltry when you’re buying something tangible like a tea or a scone, but a pound for one token that needs to be combined with at least one other token to go on a two minute kiddy ride? Now that seems like highway robbery to me. But alas, it’s London, and Christmas and vacation, so the girls went on some rides and were pleased as punch to get their chances on the cars and plane.

Once out of tokens, we decided to explore further, heading out of children’s ride land and into the land of drunk adults and large, stomach turning, spinning rides. I used to be one for carnival rides, but one too many turns on the Tilt-a-whirl when I was 13 or so and let’s just say… I can’t handle them anymore. But there was a GIANT fun house that caught my eye. Three stories high, complete with a fire pole to round out the Firehouse theme, Erin and I decided to take a turn. We forked over the ridiculous five pounds each to get into the ride and left the girl’s in care of their dad and Uncle Tim. To some it might seem like a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a five minute turn nearly falling down in a giant fun house and we hesitated at first too, but the blinking lights and laughter emanating from the building were too alluring. In the end, it was five pounds well spent on five minutes making lifelong memories with my sister. Holding onto each other so as not to fall over, spotting each other as we climbed moving ladders and cheering each other as we slid down the endless twisty slide. It was like we were kids again, if just for a moment. And maybe that’s why we pay the money to ride rides, or even attend the carnival in the first place. To capture that essence of youth, to smile your widest grin, to laugh that deep belly laugh, to imprint that joy on your brain for the times when you need it the most.

After sliding down the fire pole and escaping the crazy funhouse, we found the boys, plying the nieces with warm, sugary churro bites and we decided to call it a night. People were only getting drunker and louder, and we were only getting more tired. And with one last bite of sweet churro batter, we said goodbye to Winter Wonderland and put childhood on pause again, at least for now.

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