Everyone harps on about the magic of Christmas – the wondrous, colourful time where anything and everything is possible and goodwill should be bestowed upon one and all.
In true melancholy Britishness however, it is around this time of year and all the festive bollocks that come with it that I tend to flit from semi-permanent Christmas curmudgeon to a real-life animation of Will Ferrells character in the film that needs no introduction. A kind of bi-polar Scrooge if you will.
This year is different though. This year, the Christmas spirit is sky-high!
And it’s not happened through any kind of skullduggery or voodoo, just good old fashioned Christmas family time spent at Center Parks Sherwood in their Winter Wonderland. The whole weekend was just perfect but there was one moment in particular that just stopped me in my tracks…one of those moments when you just think, this is what life is about; this is how time should be spent; this is magical; this is Christmas condensed into one minute moment!
For a man who, whilst not anything like an emotional void, is not one to wear his heart on his sleeve often, this is a genuinely novel experience. That it all started with our 5 year old coming down ill earlier in the afternoon and our extended family being split up for the traditional Sunday evening fireworks was even more of a surprise.
But it would be remiss not to mention how magical that Center Parcs is anyway – a place where as soon as we enter the whole car seems to let out a huge ‘ahhhh’ and any remaining worries or thoughts from the outside world…particularly of the work kind, are very much left at the front gate. Their Winter Wonderland has become an annual event for our extended family and, if were totally honest, will be for as long as we could hope for it to be! True, a weekend here is not cheap and never has been; but the enjoyment that is on on offer, especially for the little ones, although sounds terribly cliched, is something that money can’t buy.
There is so much to do too. Good luck trying to find 5 minutes to sit down! Football, pottery painting, swimming, bowling, cycling and of course a visit to see Santa! And that is just for the little ones. As they grow up…the rock climbing, archery, paint ball, segways and more vigorous cycling comes into play and I doubt they will ever grow too old (or get tired) of those slides in the swimming pool. I’ve not grown out of them yet!
The site that we regularly visit at Sherwood is also very clean…perfect for a bike ride or a walk up to the Country Club to view the array of wildlife on offer (as long as you like squirrels!). The organized activities are extremely well run and our two loved the football and the pottery painting respectively. £7 for an hour of toddler football is not entirely unreasonable for a captive audience and £4 for an hour in the pottery painting den + £12 for a large plate to get all festively creative on (not usually a problem for our youngest) is also a pretty decent way to pass the time.
But their Winter Wonderland is where it is all happening at this time of year. As soon as we arrive, the kids are making plans of what they want to go and see first. It usually involves the singing reindeer/wise old owl and his terrible jokes/the enormous Christmas tree – in no particular order whatsoever. All of the above are contained in a magical winter walkway which runs alongside the central village, with fake snow covering the whole avenue, fairy lights adorning the overhead structures and decorative elf houses placed on each passing pine tree (we liked number 16 the best). As you travel along, quaint little winter huts pass you by (I’m loathe to call them sheds!), each containing a different Christmas scene – roasting chestnuts, wrapping presents, making sweets and the all important wise old owl. The mechanical scene inside moves to the sway of the music that is contained within and with more interaction each year with different buttons to press, it becomes harder and harder to prise the kids away. A welcome addition this year was the new arrival of a talking postbox which was ever so happy to send the kids letters to Santa. He came complete with slightly camp cockney accent and was happy in his work!
Further along the main Winter Wonderland trail is the mini main square where the magnificent Christmas tree is housed. A makeshift shop selling Christmas wares, hot drink stall (complete with mulled wine as standard), horse and carriage rides, real reindeer and the all important Santa’s grotto complete the arrangement. If that wasn’t enough, a sprinkle of fake snow from the machinery above and a powerful Christmassy soundtrack follow you around whilst you explore. It is impossible not to get into the spirit of the occasion.
It definitely had already done a number on me by the time that Sunday arrived. Illness for our eldest threatened to scupper our plans for the fireworks display that night, which was initially disappointing. However, not wanting our youngest to miss out, I went along with her regardless…and I am so glad I did!
A bitterly crisp Sunday evening greeted us at the beach in anticipation of the aforementioned fireworks display. There was a swell of crowd brewing as we arrived with the Christmas choir already in full voice, the surrounding decorations dimly highlighting the makeshift arena and the sense of anticipation growing in the atmosphere. As we shuffled along the beach to get a better view of the fireworks, warm wafts of mulled wine were interspersed with the sugary aroma of baked dough from The Pancake House opposite.
Our viewing spot on the beach secured and little girl safely settled on my shoulders with her warm coat, gloves and reindeer hat I was able to take in my surroundings. The choir had just started up on their rendition of ‘All I Want For Christmas’ and absolutely everyone was engaged in that moment; the family alongside me (from Grandparents to toddlers) were jigging along in the most carefree way imaginable, in front there was jubilant singing of, sometimes, indecipherable words and further away laughter gave way to just a general aura of merriment. Families enjoying the company of each other, not afraid of making a fool of themselves and all reveling in that moment and their loved ones enjoyment of it.
A vision of that scene in The Grinch popped into my head where his heart swells as he eventually finds the true meaning of Christmas. Whilst not wanting to compare myself to the stealer of Christmas, this is exactly what I felt like as I stood there with my daughter. We were in a full blown Christmas sing-a-long complete with Christmas hats and dad-dancing and nobody had the tendency to care one jot, just engrossed in the enjoyment of their family and living in the merriment of the moment. To cap it all off, I got a text from Mrs Hangry to say they had made it to watch the fireworks too – and for a split second, all was brilliantly well in the world.
That moment, whilst infinitely special could be used as a snapshot of what a break a Center Parcs is all about. A place to forget about everything apart from what matters the most. The only problem comes, is when you have to go back to reality…and Christmas is still a couple of weeks away!