Question: what do you call several dozen pop-up shops, all freshly popped up together at the one time of year when they might actually be useful?
Answer: a Christmas market.
Once upon a time Christmas markets, like many English Christmas traditions, were something we borrowed from Germany but did a little less well. And if you enjoy Glühwein and sugared pretzels, there are plenty of those ones still around, often run by borrowed Germans. (I have fond memories of the one in Old Market Square, Nottingham, and there’s a nice London specimen on the South Bank by the Royal Festival Hall.)
If you’re in search of imaginative gifts, however, there’s a new breed of market that may prove rather more helpful. It’s full of the sort of small traders who make their living — or part of their living — through websites such as eBay and Etsy, and who don’t usually hold enough stock to supply lots of shops. Quirky T-shirts, small crafty things, customised vintage stuff: a pleasure to browse, and much better looked at in person than through a browser window, especially if it might have to arrive or be returned through the Christmas post.
Over the next couple of weekends, they’ll be springing up in the church halls and pub function rooms of hipsterish areas. In Peckham, south-east London, I have a choice of two: the felicitiously named Pexmas is taking over the old Peckham Liberal Club, while the Bussey Building — a former cricket-bat factory turned arts venue — has the Crafty Fox Christmas market. Perhaps the largest and poshest version is to be found in Chelsea: Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience, open Tuesday to Sunday in the former postal sorting office on King’s Road until 15 December, with jewellery, vintage Chanel and champagne. (The clothes are liable to be of a slightly different vintage in Peckham.)
You’re almost bound to have a local one. It will have been leaving flyers in coffee bars and twee shops for weeks now. You’re not going to be able to do all the remaining shopping there, but it’ll provide a gentler sort of Christmas rush, and may well fill several tricky slots. And it’s certainly more fun than waiting in for an Amazon delivery.