As London serves as the backdrop for such classic Christmas tales as Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Richard Curtis’ masterpiece Love Actually, one could reasonably expect it to be a prime spot to spend the month of December. The conspicuous lack of snow, notwithstanding, it is! Here are some important considerations if you find yourself in the Big Smoke at Christmastime
As has probably become clear from my posts on this blog, there are many, many outdoor skating rinks that pop up in late November. Since the weather’s really not even that cold, skating outdoors in London is quite delightful. I can only speak from experience about two of the many rinks scattered about: Somerset House is a very stately and impressive setting for ice skating. Less crowded and usually cheaper is the Eyeskate on the South Bank, which is, as the name suggests, underneath the London Eye.
Most cathedrals will have at least a few free Advent and Christmas (there is a difference!) carol concerts at some point during the season. In addition to being a nice way to see inside historic buildings you might otherwise have to pay to enter, they help give Christmas a dramatic flair.
There are also some more carefree carol concerts, such as the outdoor one we went to on the grounds of the Horniman Museum in south London, overlooking the City skyline.
The Lights on Oxford Street
While I don’t endorse the crass consumerism of modern-day Christmas, I must say: The crowds and the lights on Oxford Street this time of year are truly a sight to behold. The best time to go, therefore (unlike with other attractions), is when it’s liable to be busiest probably on a weekend afternoon.
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland?
If you’re trying to decide whether or not to go, here is my advice: Don’t expect to find a German Weihnachtsmarkt recreated in London. Expect something more like an American State Fair trying to do Oktoberfest at Christmas time. Proper expectations are key, and will prevent you from spending too much time wondering why there’s a pirate ship in the “Winter Wonderland.”
If this is your first Christmas season in London, you are likely to be offered several things you have never heard of before. Allow me to clear up some confusions you may have:
Mince Pies: These are a staple of any proper British Christmas party. You might expect, as I did, that mince pies will contain minced meat, and be a sort of savoury treat. WRONG! They are sweet and usually have some sort of jam and dried fruit inside.
Christmas Crackers: If you hear someone tell you that they got a pair of finger-nail clippers inside a Christmas cracker (as, once again, I did), you might struggle to conceptualise what sort of thin, unleavened snack product could contain metal objects inside of it. To avoid such grisly imagery, mentally insert the word “fire” before the word “cracker.” That will give you a better idea of what to expect.
Pantomime: Despite the name, which suggests acting without speaking or making noise, ‘pantos’ are a particular breed of British theatre which require a lot of talking and noise from the audience. The pantos themselves don’t always have anything to do with Christmas, but this is nevertheless their time of year.