Santacon

Christmas in London

London is in full swing with the run up to Christmas and is sparkling away nicely. We’ve had the celebrity Christmas light switch-ons all across town (Robbie Williams switched on the Marmite-sponsored lights on Oxford Street in November) and the Christmas windows are looking stunning.

Clearly, shopping should be in the next Olympics, as Londoners are adept at spending a lot of money in a short amount of time. The pavements along Oxford Street are almost impossible to walk down on a weekend in December so do the shopping elsewhere (I had some tips for Christmas Shopping in London last week) and come out in the evening to enjoy the lights and the windows at Selfridges, Liberty and Harrods who always have the best displays, in my opinion.

While roasted chestnuts aren’t so easy to find these days there is plenty of Christmas fun to be had in London this year. Do remember Christmas Day is the only day of the year when London really is closed. In general, shops do not open and there is no, I repeat, no public transport.

Christmas Lights © Laura Porter

Dressing Up Fun

While you’ve missed the 32nd annual Great Christmas Pudding Race in Covent Garden and the Santa Run through Battersea Park which both took place on 1 December, this Saturday, 15 December 2012, you can see the annual Santa Skate with hundreds of rollerskating Santas leaving Hyde Park at 5pm for a 2 hour skate around central London. They all stop at Trafalgar Square for a short break so it can be fun to go and say hello and grab a mince pie with them. (Quick note, if the weather is too bad on Saturday night the skaters will be out on Sunday at 2pm instead.) Also on 15 December 2012 is Santacon so expect to see a gazillion Santas in central London this weekend.

Santacon © Josh Roulston

Brave Swimmers

Another one that’s already happened is the OSS December Dip – an annual winter swim at Parliament Hill Fields Lido which was on 8 December 2012. It’s the first swim of the season for the Outdoor Swimming Society.

But an annual outdoor swim you can still see is the Peter Pan Cup on Christmas Day at the Serpentine in Hyde Park. It’s at 9am and has been taking place every year since 1864. Only members of the Serpentine Swimming Club are allowed to compete in the race as they train weekly to prepare for the icy waters but spectators are very welcome and cheering and clapping can help the cold swimmers.

Peter Pan Swimming Cup © Laura Porter

Theatre

We have a wonderful tradition of Christmas pantomimes across the UK and London regularly gets the best shows just because it’s London. The biggest this year is Aladdin A Wish Come True at The O2 with Lily Savage as Widow Twankey.

Dance also features each year over the festive season with Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty at Sadler’s Wells on until 26 January 2013 and the English National Ballet’s The Nutcracker, which has been performed as part of its Christmas season every year since 1950, on until 5 January 2013.

Midnight Church Services

The big services to know about in London are the Midnight Mass at St Paul’s Cathedral and at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Eve. Both services start at 11.30pm and St Paul’s also has a Christmas Carol service at 4pm on 24 December 2012. On the night before Christmas, the Choir of St Paul’s Cathedral is joined by Barbican Brass to mark the first Eucharist of Christmas. I can offer some tips on going to the ‘First Eucharist of Christmas & Blessing of the Crib‘ at Westminster Abbey as I went a few years ago.

St. Paul’s Cathedral © James Stringer

Ice Skating

While it soon becomes clear we’re not great at ice skating in this city we certainly do love having a go every year at the multitude of ice rinks which spring up across town. Somerset House Ice Rink is always glamorous with the Tiffany Christmas tree, while the Natural History Museum Ice Rink and the Tower of London Ice Rink have stunning backdrops for taking photos of your friends falling over. Winter Wonderland has a lot more than just ice skating as there’s a circus, an Ice coinstar competitor Coinstar Money Transfer in Sorsogon, Philippines Kingdom, the giant observation wheel and a huge Christmas Market. So grab a mince pie and a mulled wine, start singing a carol and you’ll fit in just nicely.