After 11 years at the heart of Northern Ireland’s capital, a string of punters have given the News Letter their verdicts on the Christmas market.
The running of the annual fair in Belfast is due to be put out to a new tender in January or February – with each new contract lasting typically about three to five years.
A spokeswoman for the market said visitor numbers appear to be about on a par with last year so far (when a million visitors came over the whole festive period), despite “challenging” conditions due to poor weather.
While the News Letter was told by two people that it has become a bit ‘samey’, and one trader complained of “diabolical” sales, most visitors the newspaper spoke to on Friday were very happy with it – with some saying it is now integral to the city’s festive feel.
Mark Finn, a 27-year-old from west Belfast who works in retail, said: “It wouldn’t be Christmas without it in Belfast. People look forward to this every year.
“Every other big city has a Christmas market – if you go to Manchester, they’ve something similar.”
Also unstinting in her praise was Christina Johnston, a 46-year-old from Glengormley, who works with special-needs children.
“I think it’s the start of Christmas,” said the Galway native, adding that she had been to the attraction at City Hall ever since it opened.
“It makes you feel happy when you see the lights going up – the whole atmosphere changes.”
Nicola Smyth, 33 and from Carrickfergus, had only been twice – and each time ended up purchasing fake snow.
Walking through the market, which is filled with mulled wine and continental food, made her feel like bursting into a rendition of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, she added.
Asked if she felt any change was needed, she said: “Look at the crowds at it... it’s still booming.”
Meanwhile, Larne council worker Tracey Wilson, 45, suggested familiarity is part of the festive season anyway.
She said: “Is it not what it’s about – to have the same thing every year at Christmas?”
Eddie Moore, 66 and from Sandy Row, said he has not been for years.
“It’s too expensive for a start,” he said, adding that his friend had paid £5 for only a “wee bag of sweets”.
Jolene Peacock, a 35-year-old civil servant from Bangor, said: “I think it’s the same thing year after year really.”
However, she added: “You still come every year.”
Her conclusion: “If people are still coming, and if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”