Christmas in London
I love Christmas in London. Love, love, love it. Last year was so magical and this year has only made the season in this country more meaningful for me.
London gets so decorated for Christmas and it’s so festive. Lights go up on the Strand, giant Christmas trees go up around the city, and every shop has some kind of display.
The one thing I don’t love is how early all the decorations go up. Because Thanksgiving doesn’t exist in this country, there’s no barrier before Christmas to stop it’s starting, so a lot of decorations go up right after Halloween. And that’s ridiculous. But I’ll find a way to survive, I’m sure.
No matter how early it is, when the ice skating rink and huge Christmas tree go up at Somerset House, right next to campus, a thrill runs through me and I know the season is beginning.
I love walking around London, but it’s made even more exciting and lovely when the city is lit up with gorgeous white lights. I love just strolling, thinking about how lovely life is.
Once the decorations are up, it’s not too long until Christmas markets start popping up. Covent Garden isn’t technically a Christmas market, but it’s my favorite during the month of December. Christmas in Leicester Square and Christmas in Trafalgar Square are both lovely. Shoreditch is always fun to wander during this time.
There’s booths filled with all kinds of cute items, from hand carved wooden ornaments to jewelry. There’s food, mostly German sausages and sweets. And best of all, there’s the amazingness that is mulled wine, which I am legally allowed to drink in this country.
Carol services are another joyful tradition. I don’t know if they’re a very London thing or if they’re just a Protestant thing, but either way, I love them. It’s like a normal church service except it’s all Christmas carol songs, like Joy to the World and Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and there’s just a short sermon on the events we celebrate. The whole church is decorated and there’s mulled wine and mince pies after.
Mince pies confuse me. And apparently they confuse nearly every international student. There is no meat in them, it’s not like mince meat. It’s basically dried fruit in a sweet paste wrapped in dough then baked.I don’t really like them. I talked to my British friends, and they don’t really love them either. But we all eat them at Christmas anyways, because you have you. It’s festive.
The Christmas carol services I’ve gone to this year have been particularly amazing because they’ve been so filled with friends. This time last year, I was just finding my footing and making friends, but this year I have them and they’re all around.
Between the King’s College London carol services, where I can see all my Christian Union and school friends, and my church carol services, where I get to see all my church friends, carol services have become one of the highlights of my Christmas season.
They’re always so joyful and I just feel surrounded by the love of God and my friends.
There was one carol service in particular that we went to that was particularly fantastic. Two of our friends were in the choir, so we went and were expecting the same music we had been hearing for two weeks. Imagine our surprise when a full live band comes out, drum kit included, and they play carols with a rock twist. It was so amazing.
There are a million other Christmas activities to do in London. I always try and do a few and I try to do as many as I can with different groups.
Every year, West End puts on a holiday themed production. This year was White Christmas, which is my favorite movie of all time. I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t go. Though I didn’t like how they adapted the movie to stage, the actors were fantastic and it was such an iconic show to see on stage.
We always go ice skating somewhere in London when it’s all dressed for Christmas. Last year was the Canary Wharf rink and Tower of London rink and this year I was so excited to go to Somerset House, since it’s the iconic rink shown in the beginning of Love Actually and it’s on our University campus. And I learned how to spin on the ice!
My flatmates and our other friend bought tickets months ago to see the Nutcracker at the National Ballet. We all had critiques about the choreography, but it was still such an amazing thing to see from the front of the theater. I’ve seen it so many times from the back, either performing in it or being part of the choir, but I never got to actually watch it. So, though a bit disappointing, it was beautiful to watch and was also iconic.
Seeing the Nutcracker flowed so well into having our “fake Christmas” here in London. The night of the 13th, when we saw the show, was Christmas Eve and our friend stayed over. We watched “A Year Without A Santa Claus” and snuggled up with the lights low and Christmas tree on.
In the morning, we made hot chocolate and exchanged the gifts we had placed under the Christmas tree. I filled everyone’s stockings with candy. It was so fun to give the presents I’d been planning for weeks and to unwrap boxes.
Then we made a fancy brunch of eggs and smoked salmon and avocado with mimosas. We played dreidel, which is technically the wrong holiday but we learned how to play it from a Jewish Society event at King’s and as Christians, we believe in Hanukkah, too. It really felt like Christmas and is now one of my favorite, most beautiful memories. I’m so glad we found the time to do that.
My flatmate decided two months before Christmas that she was going to invest in some Christmas decorations. We weren’t going to stop her. So now we have garland and lights twirling up the staircase. There are Christmas signs and little trees around the house. And most importantly, we have a full sized fake Christmas tree that sparkles in the window when it gets dark.
We put it all up with one of our friends in one fun evening before Thanksgiving so that all our friends coming over for that could see. The Christmas tree especially has brought a lot of joy to my life, particularly during the quiet moments when I sit in the living room and think about how happy I am.
Christmas was my Bobchi’s (grandmom) favorite time of year and it’s my Mom’s favorite time of year. So, it’s no surprise that I love it so much. I love Christmas in Pennsylvania, with Christmas tree farms and bone cold weather and big spaces and fireplaces.
But I love Christmas in London, with its decorations and pretty, old buildings and giant Christmas trees and mulled wine with friends and carol services and hot chocolate and markets. Nothing can really compare. It makes me so happy. I am so happy.