IT is a Christmas gathering inspired by an unexpected arrival – but this was no peaceful nativity scene.
For Danaka Grindle, organiser of the Capital’s first ever Christmas Shopping Festival, life during the run-up to the birth of baby daughter Liv on December 25 last year was typically hectic, all the more so for juggling pregnancy and the festive crowds thronging Edinburgh’s streets.
It was in the midst of Christmas craziness that the 26-year-old and her husband, David, 29, decided to develop an event that would bring the often bewildering and exhausting array of gift options together under one roof.
“When our daughter arrived we just weren’t organised at all with the shopping and we thought, ‘wouldn’t it be good if there was somewhere where we could do it all in one place?’,” says Danaka.
Enter the Christmas Shopping Festival at the newly redeveloped Assembly Rooms, a retail extravaganza featuring dozens of specialist and independent retailers, chef demonstrations by leading culinary stars and a festive bar selling mulled cider and mince pies.
Danaka, who runs events company DDG with David, believes the event is unique.
“We did our research and found there was just nothing like this event,” she says. “I don’t think there’s a family-friendly one out there at the moment that caters for the Christmas market in quite the way that this one does.
“The people we have exhibiting are not people you would normally find on the high street.”
She is particularly excited about bringing the event to the Assembly Rooms, which reopened earlier this year after a £9 million renovation. She says: “We were are absolutely delighted that it has reopened in time for this. The Assembly Rooms provides a stunning setting and we couldn’t have asked for a better backdrop for the festival.”
While the event is sponsored by legendary London toy retailer Hamleys, Danaka is keen to point out that the emphasis is on a “small is beautiful” ethos.
“Hamleys was keen to do something very family friendly. Basically, the stands will be very small,” she explains. “Just enough to offer a snap shot of what the traders are offering, so the festival will really have an exhibition feel to it.
“These will be traders that are not used to exhibiting and this event just gives them that chance to get their products out there. For lots of them, it will be the first time they have shown at an event like this.”
Danaka says her organising team are well aware of the challenge of organising a bespoke, niche-oriented shopping event as the global economic downturn continues to bite.
“There will be everything there – toys, clothes, jewels, food and drink,” she says. “Lots of gift shops and boutiques will be coming along and selling some really unique things, but times are still tough and things have to be affordable. There will be stands to suit all ages and budgets.”
She adds: “An event like this helps businesses as well. Lots of the exhibitors are sole traders and this is just helping them to get their products out in the current economic climate.”
The Christmas Shopping Festival will be nothing if not diverse. As well as opportunities to try out luxury and artisan foods, culinary experts will be on hand to help shoppers give their Christmas menus a bit of zing.
“If people are able to make it along they’ll be able to get all their gifts, but there will be chef demonstrations so people should be able to get some great festive recipe tips, too,” she says.
Among those brandishing his knives will be Jason Wright, of Steak Edinburgh, who is set to offer demonstrations on both days of the festival.
“I’ll be cooking a beef Wellington in my demo – a great dish for using up leftovers,” he says. “Depending on the time I have, I’ll be showing people who come along how to trim fillets and butcher the meat, and then there will be a demonstration of how to prepare the dish after that.
“Any variety of beef works well in this dish, but I’ll be trying to showcase good Scottish produce – in this case, Aberdeen Angus beef sourced from just outside Edinburgh.
“Lots of the time, people will be buying types of food and not knowing what to do with it, so if you’re stuck and wondering what to do, there I’ll be. It all fits with the Christmas theme.”
Danaka says she is excited and a little nervous ahead of the first Edinburgh Christmas Shopping Festival, but is keen to make sure shoppers have a great time.
“This is all about a fun day out for all the family,” she says.
• The Christmas Shopping Festival at Assembly Rooms in George Street is open December 8-9 from 11.30am to 4pm.