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Festivus for the rest of us: A comprehensive guide to holiday events in London

Kevin Quigley, BA Linguistics and Japanese Studies 

The season starts with the introduction of winter-flavored lattes at Starbucks, and usually ends with me bent over a basement toilet with a glass of imitation champagne sloshing onto the floor as Auld Lang Syne chimes in the background. Needless to say, I’m a huge fan.

But whether or not you enjoy the holidays is irrelevant. Much like a middle-aged soccer mom on her first out-of-the-country river cruise, December festivities are loud and proud and refuse to be ignored. Luckily for us, London oozes winter cheer. Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Chanukah, or Winter Solstice (praise Jólnir!), this city of ours is filled to the brim with holiday-themed events. You may say to yourself, ‘I’m lame and I hate fun. Why would I waste my time lol-ing it up with other humans this December?’ Well, let me tell you, Grumpelstiltskin. Anything is possible with enough mulled wine.

Maybe you want to go to a Swedish Ice Bar, there’s one on Regents Street between HSBC Banks and Zara Home Store, but are too intimidated by the beautiful Scandinavian bartenders in crop-top winter coats. Maybe you want to sing carols at a real church and not by yourself in a handicap bathroom because you’re embarrassed by your warble-y contra-alto voice. Maybe you want to fashion a wreath out of twigs and cranberries to show people that just because you can’t use an oven without parental supervision doesn’t mean you can’t be crafty. Well, friends, there is nothing a spot of tipple can’t do to calm your seasonal anxiety. Waitrose is selling bottles of decent quality mulled wine for £3.99, and if that isn’t a Christmas miracle, then I don’t know what is.

But even if you don’t like to get fully under the drank, you can kill it this festive season if you just believe in yourself and adopt the right kind of mindset. I also recommend committing to a holiday aesthetic early in the game to make the most of winter festivities. I’ll be going for ‘recently divorced drunk uncle visiting from the Pacific Northwest circa 1998’, but the possibilities are supremely endless.

My aim is to make this as easy as possible for you guys. This can be a tough time of year for some people—especially if you can’t go home and have to stay in the city. So, I’ve compiled a list of the most interesting holiday happenings going on this December. We can divide the season into relevant categories including, but not limited to caroling, fairy lights, markets (usually of the German variety), and ice-skating. Let’s get into it!

Some people are good at singing. They smugly hum to themselves as if no one is watching, then they pretend to be shocked and embarrassed when their friends notice and compliment them. Others have trouble distinguishing a melody from a doorknob. But the magical thing about December is that singing is not only tolerated, it’s encouraged. Normally, my impression of a drunken, Judy Garland bitterly spitting out the lyrics to “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” is fully unappreciated, but in December, it’s affectionately seen as a festive reflection on the dark side of mid 20th century show business.

Take a break from shopping on December 13th at 4:00pm and stop by St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square for a candlelight caroling session. Tickets are £12, but who can really put a price on holiday cheer, am I right? If you’re looking to avoid paying for a sing-along service, then bypass St Martin-in-the-Fields and head down to Trafalgar Square on any evening between the 8th and 23rd of December for free caroling events. Last year, over 50 choirs took part in festivities, and even more are expected to participate this year. Between the 16th and 24th of December, a large menorah will be on display to celebrate the Jewish festival of Chanukah. Chanukah in the Square, organized by the Jewish Leadership Council, London Jewish Forum, Chabad and the Mayor of London, will take place on 10th December (3rd night of Chanukah), from 5:00-8:00pm. The event, which will include performances by Neshama and The Shabbaton Choir, Dreidleman and free doughnuts, will attract thousands to watch Boris Johnson (probably on a bike) light the Mayoral Menorah.

Maybe you’re thinking to yourself ‘I don’t have time for all this fancy organized fun. I have no sense of wonder or seasonal joy’ as you stroke the V for Vendetta decal plastered to the back of your Macbook Air. Fear not creepy weirdo! Walking through the streets of London this time of year can provide entertainment enough. It’s as simple as getting out of your twin-sized waterbed. Everywhere you go there are banners, bangles, and hanging light displays. It’s like a John Lewis catalogue threw up on London—and I’ve never been more excited about hypothetical vomit.

There are obvious choices like Covent Garden and Oxford Street, but even during the off-season, both locations are total nightmares. The other day, I very innocently went to Topshop on Oxford Street to buy my scariest friend a black floppy hat for her 21st, and was nearly consumed by the massive crowds. Though all the holiday displays attract hoards of people who act like animals, some are much more tolerable than others. If you’re shopping around Oxford Circus, pop up to St Christopher’s Place for a less congested illuminated walk-about. And if you’re around Bond Street, you might as well mosey down toward South Molton Street for good vibes underneath some illuminated arches.

Same story if you’re in Soho. Take a break from fighting crowds and head down to Carnaby Street for some avian themed lighting. If you like winter birds and fairy lights, this year’s theme is going to drive you wild like naughty Sandy in Grease. Imagine this; It’s cold, you’ve been pushing your way through slow-walking humans all day because society tells us that we need to shower our loved ones with gifts every December, and you thought you had enough left-over cash to afford a gingerbread latte at Starbucks. Spoiler alert, you don’t. So you ask American Stacey to spot you because she won £20 in “dictators of the 20th century” look-alike contest and you always cover her when you go to Pinkberry. But she refuses because she might as well have been raised by a pack of San Diego junkyard dogs. Your voices get louder and louder, and you can feel the

beginnings of a Kim Kardashian ugly cry welling up from deep inside of you. Then, out of the corner of your eye, you see a hovering red entity. What is that thing? Is it a horse? Nope. Is it a bloody limb? Not this time. It’s a seasonal bird! Wait, what? IT’S AN ENTIRE STREET OF SEASONAL BIRDS. And just like that, bam! Good vibes! Fun timez! No more fighting! And probably a record deal!

If you haven’t completely given up on this article, you’re probably wondering what else you can do to affectionately destroy the holiday season. Well friends, have you ever heard of Germany? Do you know about the great wooden stall migration that has become a transnational winter icon? If so, congratulations. Your family loves you. If not, we’ve got some work to do. Obviously Winter Wonderland is the penultimate German-inspired market festival. I’m going to dive into this description as if no one has ever heard of it, so just humor me, okay?

Winter Wonderland is crazy. There are food stalls, makeshift carnival rides, Blink-182 cover bands, excited old people, and an abundance of over-priced alcohol. Peak hours are between 6pm and 10pm on weekend evenings, and it’s open until the 4th of January They’ve assembled a “magical ice kingdom” where you’re allowed to walk through an arctic themed castle filled with frost sculptures and powdered snow. It’s a nice walk, and you can do pretty much whatever you’d like provided “you don’t disturb the peace”—which apparently is an easy thing to do if you like fun and one-man dance performances. Tickets are £10 for adults. No student discounts (fascists).

You can also book an hour-long session on the ice skating rink for £14.5 during peak hours (£10.5 during off hours). Evening sessions are scheduled for 5:15, 6:30, 7:45, and 9pm. It’s a great opportunity for you to smugly show everyone that you’re a free spirit committed to whimsy and seasonal cheer.

There are a variety of rides that are featured as a part of the festival. In general, attractions are £3 a person, which is a bit expensive, but some of them are quite good. The fun house is great toward the end of the night after you’ve been

removed from the pub. To be honest, the prices for most of the event are quite high, and the crowds can be a bit intense at certain times. However, it’s nice to walk around and take in the holiday cheer. And there are ways around the sort of crippling anxiety that sinks into the depths of your soul when amongst large masses of people. My trick for these sorts of events is to pre-game the crap out of them. Buy cheap wine (it’s got to be wine –  that way you can convince yourself that you’re maintaining some level of class), have a few glasses just before you head off to the event, force your friends to join you (remind them of all the times they dragged you to their ex’s DJ night in a pathetic attempt to capture his attention), and get ready to begin your holiday adventure. The wine will keep you merry, but more importantly warm. Guys, if you don’t think about the practical side of things, then you’re not even a real person.

If you’re into Winter Wonderland, then you should definitely check out the South Bank Centre’s Winter Festival. It’s on until January 11th, and is a nice alternative to Hyde Park’s event. The theme this year is “The Joy of Giving” , which is sweetly reflected in multiple colossal rabbit sculptures nuzzling one another. Did I mention these fifteen-meter behemoths are made entirely out of fairy lights?

Alongside the market, get lost in the Christmas Tree Maze, composed of more than 300 blue spruce trees, or you can cozy up at the Rekorderlig Cider Lodge to enjoy pleasant views of the Thames. And of course you’re able to buy holiday fare-like Polish sausage and mead at the many German stalls sprinkled around the NatWest Centre if you’re into feastiality and what not.

There are so many events to experience in the city. In fact, I almost wish I was staying in London between terms—much more appealing than listening to racist aunt Helen lament the downfall of the British Empire. Definitely explore this holiday season—there’s much more going on than I was able to cover. Get excited. Get crazy. Get festive. Happy Holidays!


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