I can’t quite believe Christmas is upon us.
I envision Michener Hill covered by several feet of snow, with a colourful speckling of sledders, light displays in their full glory throughout Red Deer’s neighbourhoods and Santa’s grotto packed out in Parkland Mall.
Wherever you are, I hope you are having a wonderful Christmas Eve with the people you love most.
Christmas has always been my favourite time of year. I am struck by the way it inspires people to be just a little bit kinder, to reach out to friends and family, to reflect on the year past and to enter the new year as a better person.
This year, I have the pleasure of knowing my baby nephew is witnessing these Christmas phenomena for the first time. In my absence this year, I was determined to ensure he received something special from his aunt on Christmas.
For such momentous occasions, there is one standout store in Britain: Hamley’s. Founded in 1760, this toy shop was designed for children and created by the most enthusiastic children-at-heart. Its flagship store is located on Regent Street in London, which happens to be just around the corner from my office. So with both my nephew and my boyfriend’s niece to spoil, I nipped out last week for a spirit-lifting lunch break.
Picture all the best bits of Disneyland within the walls of a department store and you’ve probably imagined something resembling Hamley’s. The store has five bustling floors and a myriad of aisles devoted to children of all ages.
At Christmas, the entrance of the shop is mind-bogglingly impressive. There are entertainers to greet you at the door, bubbles steadily afloat, festive threads of garland entwined around every railing, decorations hanging from the ceiling, remote-control aeroplanes buzzing overhead, and the season’s most upbeat festive songs playing from the surround sound speaker system.
Inside, there is a stairwell transformed into the magical lairs of Narnia, smiling staff performing demonstrations of all the latest gadgets and face-painters ready to adorn kids with their favourite colours and animals.
Add hundreds of children running around and the scene mirrors a Hollywood film set in the North Pole, elves working excitedly in the countdown to Christmas. But with so many toys and games to choose from, I still don’t know how any child could put a stamp on their final Christmas wishlist.
My colleague Jonathan Thompson recalls that his favourite Christmas tradition growing up was always a visit to Hamley’s.
“It was a place where we could quite happily spend hours and hours on end. As a child, the floors and corridors seemed to be endless, with too many things to look at. It was as I imagined Santa’s grotto to be — except bigger.”
Every child raised near London has a favourite Hamley’s floor. Jonathan’s was the fourth, full to the brim with cars, action figures and board games. I suspect, had I had the opportunity, I would have flocked to the second floor to acquaint myself with its plethora of dolls and teddy bears.
My current favourite is the African section on the ground floor. It features stuffed elephants so big they would need to be taken home in a moving van. Perhaps one of Santa’s miracles got them into the store in the first place.
Fortunately, we all grow up and learn that presents play only a small role at Christmas. I asked Jonathan what his favourite toy from Hamley’s was and he couldn’t remember any one in particular. The highlight he shared instead involved his brother getting stuck in the store’s escalator.
The message? Even the gifts and treats we receive as children return to us as little parcels of the people we were with and the moments we shared.
Whatever you do this Christmas weekend, and whatever gifts you receive, I hope you rediscover that potent childhood magic and embrace the holidays the way you did years ago. I have to thank my brother’s beautiful baby boy — and the 300 ecstatic children who happened to be in Hamley’s last Wednesday — for putting a spark back in my holidays.
Brit Kennedy grew up in Red Deer and graduated from Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School. She attended university in Scotland and is now living and working in London, England.