It’s official! The Christmas lights have been switched on at Oxford street! This means celebrating Christmas is officially allowed. And so, millions of miles away, I am officially homesick.
I always get homesick around this time of year. Probably because I love Christmas so much. I indulge in the festive season so much that I’ve been asked if I am a practising Christian. I’m not. But what I’ve come to understand since living abroad, is that Christmas is a part of my cultural tradition. The cultural traditions that belong to the country I was raised in.
Now I know some people absolutely hate Christmas. It brings with it high costs, stress, weight gain and possibly family arguments. While I’m all too familiar with the last on this list, I still love Christmas. And it’s a downright cheesy reason that makes me smile when the lights go on at Oxford Street. People are just nicer!
If you’ve ever lived in London or had the unfortunate experience of commuter rush hour in London, you’ll know that there is nothing polite or even civilised about the affair. People push and shove you in or out of the way. It’s a ruthless business of getting on the train or get out the way. However once those lights have been switched on, magic is sprinkled across the town and people are genuinely nicer. They hold the door open for you, they let ladies get on first, they help you with the buggy as you attempt to climb a flight of stairs with your baby buckled in. The only correlation I have to this display of kindness is the magical Oxford street lights being switched on.
It may sound like I have a bias on where the best place is to spend Christmas, but I assure you I’ve tried a few different spots. I have spent Christmas in Canada, Slovenia, Sri Lanka and Qatar. I have also visited Germany in the run up to Christmas. This is the only contender I have seen for first place with the exception of Lapland which I have yet to visit. So what is it about London at this time of year that makes me miss home so much?
Here’s my top 5 of the best London has to offer for the holidays.
1. Christmas Dinner at a pub
This meal does not have to be eaten in the evening. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to move after if you tried. What does it consist of? A roast meat of some kind (Turkey, ham, lamb), roast winter vegetables (parsnips, butternut squash, tatties), a large Yorkshire pudding (warning- this is not a sweet pudding!), stuffing with cosy herbs like rosemary and sage in it and a generous serving of gravy! If you are vegetarian like myself- substitute the roast meat for nut roast or a quiche/vegetable tart. And for dessert- we’re talking apple pie, apple crumble, sticky toffee pudding or some decadent warm gooey chocolate pudding. Or if you are traditional- Christmas pud with custard. There’s nothing quite like the merriment of Christmas dinner at a pub.
2. Lights on at Oxford St.
I’ve already mentioned the beautiful spectacle of lights that decorate the ceiling of Oxford street around this time of year. And it truly is magical. It may initially have been installed for children (in previous years- themes have been Disney’s Frozen, or Ice Age) but as an adult you can’t help but feel happy at the sight. This year it celebrates 57 years as a tradition. A celebrity switches on the lights every year, marking the special occasion. This year they have finally closed the road down from traffic so visitors can look up and enjoy the sights without worrying about oncoming traffic! For more information on Lights across the capital click here .
3. The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree.
Trafalgar Square is decorated with a Norwegian Spruce tree every year. This is a tradition that has been ongoing ever since 1947. It was a gesture of thanks from the people of Norway for Britain’s support during World War 2. Every year the tree is decorated in a Norwegian style. Interestingly, the tradition of having Christmas trees was initially brought to the UK by German Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband.
4. Christmas Markets and mulled wine
Another tradition, probably brought in from our German neighbours, are Christmas markets. With cute wooden chalets selling hot chocolate, mulled wine and bratwursts, it’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon or evening. It seems like there has always been a German Christmas market on the Southbank for as long as I can remember. And now, more Christmas markets have been popping up across the city these days. Try Covent Garden, Kew or Greenwich to name a few.
5. Christmas Carols at St Martin on the field.
The fact that I enjoy carols at all is a product of my early school life in the UK. We sang in school and we sang carols at Christmas time. A group of my friends suggested going to sing Christmas carols my last year in London. I jumped at the chance. St Martin on the field is known for its acoustics reputation, so it was the perfect location to hear carols. Although it is hard to imagine, as the church sits in the heart of London city, it was once surrounded by fields in 1222. They rebuilt st Martin on the field in 1726. For more on the history of St Martin on the field click here.
So there you have it. My home favourites. There are of course other little traditions that I miss such as mince pies, pantomimes and Starbucks Christmas coffee (I know it’s commercial Christmas but I like it!). Somerset House and the ice rink is also a beautiful favourite. Not that I have been brave enough to put on a pair of skates (falling hurts when you get older!). I’ll be spending Christmas in Singapore this year. My new home. Stay tuned for that post! Let me know where you like to celebrate Christmas!