TEN years ago, Oxford did not even have a Christmas market; now it is a staple of the city’s festive calendar.

This is almost entirely thanks to one woman.

Reporter JAMES ROBERTS spoke to the woman who brought a bit of German Christmas to Oxford.

NICOLE Rahimi found herself missing one of her native Germany’s oldest Christmas traditions when she moved to the UK 14 years ago.

Soon after arriving in Oxford in 2006, she decided to do something about it.

“There are plenty of Germans in Oxford and we said how sad it was that there wasn’t a Christmas market,” the owner of Oxford Christmas Market says.

“As Germans, that’s what you grow up with.”

Fast forward to the present day and Oxford Christmas Market is in the middle of its longest-ever stint on Broad Street.

Thousands of people have already browsed the 60 stalls serving authentic food and drink and unusual gifts in the first six days of the 16-day event.

The market is certainly now a success, but getting to this point has not been easy.

Originally from Zwickau, near Dresden, Mrs Rahimi spent her childhood in the heartland of festive markets.

Dresden’s Striezelmarkt was first held in 1434 and still features the iconic wooden decorations that adorn the windows of homes across the region at this time of year.

Mrs Rahimi, 42, recalls that when she moved to London in 2004 with husband Kazem, a cardiologist working as a researcher at Oxford University, and daughter Yasmina, even the capital did not have a Christmas market.

Two years later the family relocated to Iffley and after having her youngest daughter Kiana in 2007, Mrs Rahimi completed an events management course via distance learning.

In November 2008, she set up her company, NiRa Events, but when she approached Oxford City Council proposing a Christmas Market in 2008, Mrs Rahimi really did have to start from square one.

“I expected everyone to know what a Christmas market was, but at first I had to explain,” she reveals.

Mrs Rahimi had her eye on Broad Street, but was told new markets were not allowed after shops and businesses claimed footfall was suffering as a result.

“It was a shame for me but, looking back, I do understand why,” she says.

“These markets came in and were blocking off the shops and not really caring.

“You have to work with them, because it’s their livelihood as well.”

Oxford Castle was suggested as an alternative and in 2009 the first Oxford Christmas Market attracted 15,000 people and 30 traders.

But the absence of Christmas markets in this country meant Mrs Rahimi had to borrow money from her family to get the stalls built.

“Because it’s been established in Germany for centuries, people have their own stalls and their own set-up and they come to the market wherever it is,” she explains.

“In the UK, it was a new thing so traders generally didn’t have a wooden stall for Christmas time.”

By the market’s third year, the number of stalls had risen to 48, but a lack of footfall saw interest from customers and traders fall.

“I just couldn’t do it anymore,” Mrs Rahimi admits.

“The weekends were great with lots of people, but the weekdays weren’t so good.

“Looking back now, I don’t know how we managed – it was cold, it was wet and there was hardly anyone there.”

She adds: “Traders were saying to me ‘Nicole, it looks lovely, it’s really well organised, but we just don’t make enough money to return’.

“Lots of traders know each other and the word was spreading not to do Oxford.”

Mrs Rahimi, now of Littlemore, terminated her contract at the castle and tried Broad Street again.

In summer 2012, things were looking up, but that September, with businesses still against the idea, Oxford City Council refused permission,.

This was a financial blow, but in response the Christmas market owner started an online petition that attracted 1,200 signatures and 500 comments of support.

She applied at the beginning of 2013, petition in hand, and was finally granted permission.

“There were still a large number of shops on Broad Street against it, just because of the experience they had with previous markets,” she explains.

“I always thought I just needed that one chance to show everybody how great it could be in Broad Street.”

Mrs Rahimi sought to get business owners onside and designed a layout for the market that incorporated shops.

“During the market I always go inside and ask them to let me know if they have any issues,” she says.

“The ones that were very against it are happy with it now.”

It has been relatively plain sailing since 2013, but the market is still a huge project for what is mainly Mrs Rahimi ‘working at the kitchen table with my laptop’.

The event was a full-time job all-year-round when it was not fully established, but it is now only full-on from September.

The process begins in January, when she applies to the council for permission to hold the market, which is normally granted around March or April.

Mrs Rahimi then sends application packs to traders, who are booked by mid-June.

Last year, the market reached 60 stalls for the first time, with Mrs Rahimi receiving double the number of applications.

Despite the extended opening period the same number of traders are in place this year, seemingly undeterred by the disappointing footfall 12 months ago.

“Last year was tough because of the weather,” Mrs Rahimi admits.

“It wasn’t because of Westgate, I don’t think it had any negative effect on the market - it was more the snow.”

While Mrs Rahimi works from the comfort of her home for much of the year, this changes as soon as December approaches.

She spent three days last week transforming Broad Street from normality to a winter wonderland.

“When the set-up starts I’m in Broad Street at 7am, first one in, last one out,” Mrs Rahimi says.

Even this year, the market’s owner will be on-site all day every day, chatting to traders, customers and sampling the atmosphere.

“My husband always said I need to delegate and although it’s stressful, I actually really enjoy being there,” she says.

“It’s the thing I work on all year, so when its finally here I walk around and talk to people.

“There’s still three traders left from when we were at the castle and quite a big number returning to Broad Street every year.

“I always call it the Oxford Christmas Market family.”

The hard work will continue after the last few stragglers leave the site and traders pack up their stalls next Saturday.

In just 24 hours, all evidence of the market will vanish for another year.

No relic of the festive fun of the previous 16 days will remain, but within a month Mrs Rahimi will be planning the Oxford Christmas Market 2019.

Some people cannot bear to think about Santa, turkey and reindeer until December, but the person who gave Oxford its Christmas market will never tire of feeling festive.

“I started this because of what I grew up with,” she says.

“I love Christmas and getting excited in the time leading up to it, meeting up with family or friends and getting into the festive spirit.

“I wanted to establish the market as a tradition here and I think I’ve done that.”

Oxford Christmas Market runs until Saturday, December 22.

For more information visit oxfordchristmasmarket.co.uk online.