Yes, London, it’s that time of year again when the city is all wrapped up for the Christmas season. The festive lights have been switched on, Regent’s Street is looking angelic, the royal palaces are open for skating business, and Scrooge is warming up all over town for variations of ‘A Christmas Carol’. From quirky Christmas to royal Christmas, from festive foodie fun to the silly nilly, here is Londoness’s Guide to an Alternative Christmas in London. (Warning: I can’t promise there won’t be any tinsel tackiness. I’m a Yank, remember?)
HAPPY CHRISTMAS LONDON
I asked one of my Instagram friends, the book illustrator Melissa Wood, to design a Christmas sketch for this post. I’m a huge fan of Melissa’s, having discovered her on Instagram about six months ago. She is an illustrator of books, architecture, cocktails, travel, destination maps and more, and her illustrious client list includes HarperCollins UK, Neiman-Marcus, Vanessa Williams, Kyle Machlachlan and Oprah Winfrey. She has three fabulous children, a small dog and a very moody cat. You can follow her on Instagram. Melissa is always on the hunt for collaborators, so check out her website for more information. (Thank you Melissa for this dashing image of Christmas in London!)
Ghosts of Christmas Past
Unwrapping ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Dickens Museum
Did you know that Charles Dickens wrote ‘A Christmas Carol’ in a mere six weeks? An exhibition at the Dickens Museum (opening on 22 November) will explore what inspired this festive classic. The show will include first editions of the story and original pencil sketches. Unwrapping ‘A Christmas Carol’ will also showcase costumes and props from the film ‘The Man who invented Christmas, which is about, you guessed it, Dickens. The museum will be dressed for Christmas and is hosting several other events over the season. Check the website for candlelit tours, performances of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ and more.
Dickens walking tour
I’ve just started tucking into Lucinda Hawksley’s excellent book about her great great great grandfather, ‘Dickens and Christmas.’ You can join her for a Dickensian ramble on the 21 December, during which she will reveal some of the London locations that inspired Dickens’s Christmas writing.
A Victorian Christmas at Highgate Cemetery
If, like me, you’ve purchased Judith Flanders’ book. ‘Christmas: A Biography,’ then you might want to go and see her in person on the 14 December at Highgate Cemetery. She will be discussing her book and analysing festive traditions, many of which are a nod to Christmas during Queen Victoria’s day.
Very sadly, the Geffrye Museum will be shutting its doors on January 7 for an extensive renovation program expected to last two years. Until then, you can enjoy a host of Christmas events including one of my favourites at this time of year, the Christmas Past exhibition. For six weeks, you can roam through a gallery of rooms showing Christmas decorating styles through the ages. The Geffrye Museum hosts several fantastic wreath-making classes which I attended last year. You can read about the classes here.
The Enchanted Christmas of John Wesley
John Wesley’s House will be all decked out in eighteenth century greenery on December 13. You can help Betsy the housekeeper with her chores, and tuck into eighteenth century treats being made by Cook in the kitchen. For the kids, there will be Christmas make and take crafts. Free event.
Christmas with the Courtaulds at Eltham Palace
Get ready for Christmas as the household at Eltham Palace prepares for a legendary 1930s society party for millionaire couple Stephen and Virginia Courtauld. Get into the swing of it with period Christmas music as costumed characters bring the party palace to life. And since you’re there, there’s more time travelling in the illuminated gardens after dark.
A Georgian Christmas at the Soane
Enjoy a candle-lit evening at the Soane Museum on the 15 December with two gin cocktails, mince pies, a reading from ‘Emma’ in the Library, harp music and carol singers.
Christmas with the Stuarts at Ham House
It’s all mistletoe and merriment at Ham House this December where you can celebrate a restoration-style Christmas.
Candlelit Tour at the Benjamin Franklin House
Benjamin Franklin, the United States’s Founding Father, lived in Craven Street for a whopping sixteen years. This Christmas, you can tour his Grade I-listed home in cosy candlelight and sample mulled wine and mince pies in the great man’s parlour.
A Royal Christmas
A Christmas Carol at Windsor Castle
OK, I know Windsor isn’t exactly London, but as we owe much of our modern-day Christmas traditions to Queen Victoria and her Albert, what better way to celebrate the festive spirit than with a wee trip to Windsor Castle? Here, Charles Dickens’s yuletide tale, ‘A Christmas Carol’ is brought to life, literally, in an immersive Christmas experience within the State Apartments at Windsor Castle. Follow Ebenezer Scrooge from the Caste gates to the Waterloo Chamber for a seated performance, after which he will then escort you to St George’s Hall to celebrate the Christmas spirit beneath the glorious tree.
The Queen’s House will be transformed into an advent calendar on the 7 December with a surprise behind each door. The UK’s biggest boy band will be in the house (the Gay Men’s Chorus, of course) regaling everyone with jolly tunes. The dress code is strictly vintage for this 1950s inspired evening. It kicks off with a Christmas wreath-making class, followed by ghost stories with Father Christmas and prize-giving for the glammest outfit of the evening. How retro-fabulous!
Get your Royal Skates on
You can skate with royalty in both the Tower of London and in Hampton Court Palace. The Tower of London’s skating rink is now open. Hampton Court’s 1040mw rink, boasting spectacular views over the River Thames, is open from the 24 November. I wonder what Henry VIII would make of all these merry gentlemen having holly jolly fun in his homes?
Christmas A Go Go with Miss Hope Springs
Those of you who follow me will know how much I luurve Miss Hope Springs. And I just can’t wait to see her crooning out some yuletide tunes this December in a show where Las Vegas meets Lapland with some yuletide Calypso tunes in-between. She’ll be saddling her sleigh on the 8 December at the 2 Brewers in London and putting a glittering appearance at the Museum of Comedy from the 19-23 December.
Christmas shows in London
Pinocchio and afternoon tea at the National Theatre
Pinocchio, the world’s favourite puppet, together with his friends Jiminy Cricket and Geppetto, are visiting the National Theatre from the 1 December. The production team includes the director of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and the writer of Matilda. Hi-diddle-dee-Tea is available in the House Restaurant after matinees and prior to evening performances
If you haven’t seen Slava’s Snowshow, please go and see it. It’s pure magic and breathtakingly beautiful (and I’m not even a fan of clowns).
The Box of Delights at Wilton’s Music Hall
As Kay Harker heads home from school for the Christmas holidays, he meets an old magician who charges Kay to protect his Box of Delights, a device with time travelling properties. The Box of Delights is a magical adventure story starring Matthew Kelly and staged in the world’s oldest grand music hall – Wilton’s.
Dinner with a serving of Art at Tate Britain
How about a Christmas dinner at the Tate Britain to get your festive taste buds going? Visit the glorious Impressionists in London exhibition on the 8 December and follow with dinner in the Rex Whistler restaurant. The courses are matched to outstanding wines from the cellar. £100 a head (includes entry to the exhibition).
Guildhall Christmas Market
Hang out with Loyd Grossman and Cyrus Todiwala at the Guildhall Christmas market and enjoy food tastings, book signings and workshops. There’s a traditional market, glühwein and afternoon tea in London’s largest medieval crypt. And you’ll even also be able to get your heirlooms valued with the BBC Antiques Roadshow team and indulge in some shopping in over 100 stalls.
Classical Christmas in London
Bartoli and Gabetta at the Barbican
Expect musical fireworks on 1 December at the Barbican: Cecilia Bartoli, queen of baroque pairs with Argentinian cellist Sol Gabetta. I’m kicking myself that I’m not in the country for this one. I guess I’ll have to settle for the album instead.
Bach at the Wigmore Hall
John Butt and his Dunedin Consort present four of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio cantatas on 16 December at the Wigmore Hall, leading listeners through the Nativity story.
Christmas Carols in London
There are Christmas carols a ’plenty in London this year. Here’s a selection of favourites.
Childline Christmas Concert at St Columba’s Church, Knightsbridge
The Christmas carols at St Columba’s Church are an annual fixture in the London yuletide calendar. In aid of Childline and the NSPCC, the evening promises music, carols, celebrity readings and performances. Russell Watson, Natalie Dormer and Martin Freeman participated last year.
Southwark Cathedral Carol Service
You’ll need to be quick to get tickets for the Southwark Cathedral Carol Concert on the 12, December. The candlelit cathedral will provide a sparkling backdrop to the Quorum Chamber Choir. You can also catch some festive tunes on the 15 December when the Boys Choir and Lay Clerks of Southwark Cathedral Choir perform Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on Christmas Carols.
Battersea Dogs and Cats Carol Concert at St Luke’s Church, Chelsea
You need to leave your pooches at home for this carol concert, but don’t get barking mad, there will be plenty of furry friends in the Doggie Guard of Honour to welcome you on the night.
St Martin in the Fields
St Martin-in-the-Fields is the queen of venues for Christmas, carols and candlelight. The church is hosting an evening of carols for shoppers, a Norwegian Christmas concert and a family Christmas concert. But my favourite is the BBC Radio 4 and St Martin-in-the-Fields Carol Service that supports homeless and vulnerable people across the UK. In the last 2 years, the charity has raised over £5 million.
Have yourself a very silly Christmas
London Santa Dash
Get your Santa suits on and head over to Clapham Common on the 3 December for the London Santa Dash. It’s all in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital (and the suits are free).
The London Pantomime Horse Race
Trot yourself over to Greenwich on the 10 December for what has to be the silliest event in the festive calendar: the London Pantomime Horse Race. The charity event kicks off with a pre-race ceremony featuring Strictly Neigh Dancing at 11.30. Then, all manner of steeds will navigate the streets of Greenwich, riding over daft obstacle courses.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY HOLIDAYS, HAPPY HANUKKAH Y’ALL!
OK, it’s confession time. I LOVE Christmas carols, I LOVE over-the-top Christmas decorations and I LOVE Christmas films! There I said it! And, as I’m now in confession mode, I suppose I might as well tell you that my absolute favourite Christmas film of all time is, ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’. Why I hear you ask? Londoness spends all year leading us into galleries, museums and theatres, and now this? Well, let’s just say my Christmases when I was growing up were – unusual. I’m going to leave it there. Pour yourself some eggnog (preferably in one of these moose glasses), sit back, and have a ho, ho ho Christmas!
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