Christmas in London: Lights, Markets, and Santa!
Are holidays in London any different than the United States? I found myself being asked this question more often than not by my non-British international friends on more than one occasion over the last month. They are mostly from Eastern Europe, and as Christmas approaches here in the UK a lot of them are experiencing those cultural differences for the first time just like I have been over the past three months. The reality is that I have not noticed much difference. Since I live in a house of Americans even while I am living in London, this time of year feels very much like it would in the states. Yes, it was strange to not be with all of our families on Thanksgiving, but we did manage to all come together and create a proper Thanksgiving meal complete with two Turkeys, sweet potatoes, cranberry applesauce, green bean casserole, enough mash for an army, and yes even pumpkin pie.
Part of me had not really thought about Christmas away from home since I am returning to the states in a few days, but as the questions began to emerge I understood the Christmas season begins a lot earlier here. Christmas began in London on November 1st. Unlike the states where Black Friday marks the turn of the shopping season, early November was the kick off with the lighting of Oxford Street that overnight transformed the city from late Autumn into illuminated joyfulness and trees in every shop window. Even though I went to the lighting, it didn’t really sink in that the holidays were upon us until I spent some time looking at how London changes for the season as I walked around the city this past week.
Of course this holiday driven excursion takes me back to Oxford Street and the glowing silver and golden orbs that hang above the bustling shoppers for many city blocks. Now the glittering bobbles on Regent Street, and the illuminated peacock feathers on New Bond Street have joined these balls of light. The brightest lights are hidden a little farther of the beaten path in SoHo on Carnaby street where silver and hot pink disco balls hang among glittering stars overhead. That is where I ran into Santa Claus a few nights ago!
These lights are amazing and worth an adventure in itself, but my favorite part about Christmas in London that I have never had the chance to enjoy back home, is the beauty of a Christmas market. There are several of these markets throughout the city, but the largest is incorporated into Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. A wonderland it most definitely is as it makes even young adults feel the joy of Christmas all over again. My friend and I stumbled upon the wonderland a few nights ago without really planning to go, but since there was no entrance fee we decided to take a look and were instantly sucked into the mix. The sun was just beginning to set and the day was cooling down so we decided to grab glasses of hot mulled wine (pumpkin spiced wine if you will) to enjoy as we walked through the brightly lit rides and pavilions on every side. The closest thing I can compare it to was a very clean state fair complete with roller coasters, a Bavarian market place, German sausage and beer, and an ice skating rink at the far end ideal for people watching…and we did for easily half an hour. Winter Wonderland was deceivingly large and we spent hours just enjoying the feeling of Christmas before catching the tube back for the night.