Skip to content

By Jess Yacovelle

London as a city is obsessed with Christmas as a holiday. From the day after Halloween up until Boxing Day, London is decked out in Christmas spirit and cheer, even more so than in the United States. There is no question of political correctness and whether London is allowed to celebrate Christmas when not everyone does, and as a result, the city has transformed into a holiday wonderland. Here are the top five pre-December 25th London Christmas facts!

1) Everyone wishes you a Happy Christmas. Yes, London acknowledges that other religions and holidays exist, but Christmas has sort of become so separated from actual religion in England that it's perfectly normal to wish everyone a Happy Christmas regardless of their beliefs.

2) Decorations. Decorations are everywhere. Christmas trees pop up in shops and lobbies, tinsel and lights are hung across streets, and fairy lights decorate trees and bushes. For nearly two straight months, you can walk down Oxford Street or Chancery Lane and see near-constant decorations, and it is absolutely beautiful, especially at night.

3) Hyde Park. Northwest of Buckingham Palace is Hyde Park, a lovely large patch of grass and trees that stretches into Kensington Gardens. During Christmas, the southwest corner of Hyde Park is transformed into a Winter Wonderland carnival. There is a ferris wheel, carnival rides, ice skating, games, shops, and every type of fair food imaginable. It's free to get into, and absolutely worth attending, especially since Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are gorgeous tourist destinations in and of themselves.

4) Winter markets. There are Christmas-themed markets hidden all over London, especially along the Thames. I've accidentally stumbled upon three thus far, and there are more I haven't been to yet. Some of these markets - like the one in front of the Tate Modern or by the London Eye - are temporary and not there for eleven months out of the year, so these holiday markets are truly a unique aspect of Christmas in London.

5) Everything is set to shut down Christmas Day. All of those markets and the Hyde Park fair that I mentioned earlier are completely dead on Christmas day. Theatre shows don't have performances, shops close, and public transit is much more limited. In fact, only nice restaurants offer Christmas dinners on December 25th, but you have to make reservations months in advance.

Bonus: Christmas TV specials. Yes, we do this in the states as well, but England as a whole has a tradition of creating new Christmas specials every year. From scripted shows like Doctor Who to comedy panel shows like 8 Out of 10 Cats, England produces new Christmas specials every single year. One of the better known panel shows that is released only at Christmas is The Big Fat Quiz of the Year, a show that is released once a year around Boxing Day, and one that I luckily got to see recorded live.

By Hannah Radner

Whether or not one celebrates, Christmas time is joyous. Here in London (and, I suppose, everywhere else in the world that isn't America), Thanksgiving does not exist. In the USA we know it's coming on November 1 when Starbucks exchanges the PSL for the Peppermint Mocha and red cups; however, Thanksgiving is just the road block to full on Christmas hysteria. Here, thanks to the absence of Thanksgiving, Christmas starts on November 1, and I am all for it. The only downside to spending the holidays here is missing them at home. This is the first year I didn't see my family for Thanksgiving, which would have been a lot harder to handle had it not been for GW England. That's right, kids, I'm about to make a pitch, so get ready.

I chose a program on GW England because I was only vaguely aware of the resources that would be available to me; I knew we would have some sort of GW advising in London, and I liked knowing that I would have someone to fall back on if I was having any trouble. We do have an advisor here, but this is only the beginning of the benefits of GW England. The advantages of the program were already apparent nearly as soon as I got here, as we GW students at LSE all moved in early so we could go to our GW England orientation events. For starters, my flat mate is also from GW. Second, we got to meet all the other GW students who would be with us at our school and throughout the city. On our first day, we got breakfast at Café in the Crypt, took a walking tour, took a boat cruise down the Thames, had lunch and explored the Tower of London, and then were free to explore the city as we so chose. About a week and a half later, we had the opportunity to see a play at the Globe theatre (yes, the Shakespeare one). Our advisor, Geeta, has taken us out to lunch by school; those of us at LSE were fortunate enough to go to Nando's. One day in early November we took a day trip to the town of Bath where we took a walking tour, had lunch, and explored the Roman Baths and the town itself. That day I ate at Sally Lunn's Historic Eating House, where I stuffed myself full of delicious buns and tea. Our last event of the term is afternoon tea at the National Portrait Gallery, where I intend to stuff myself full of more bread and tea.

Being Americans abroad, perhaps the most meaningful event put on by GW England was our Thanksgiving dinner this past Thursday. Thanksgiving break is often a welcome respite from school. In high school, we had a pep rally and a football game between celebrated rivals. At GW, it is the calm before the finals storm. On Thursday, Thanksgiving did not feel like Thanksgiving because I had a paper due in class that day. I usually have classes from 4-7 on Thursdays, but due to the abundance of American expats at LSE, my professor was very kind and understanding and excused me from my last one so I could be on time for dinner. For this I am thankful (see what I did there?). The LSE runs its own Thanksgiving dinner for General Course students, and my building had a Thanksgiving potluck, but I am glad I chose to do Thanksgiving with GW. It was catered in a function room at a nice hotel, and it was cool to see the majority of GW England students all sitting at the same table. While I wasn't surrounded by family as usual, I was surrounded by friends; it finally felt like Thanksgiving, aside from the fact that I was full after only one plate of food.

The holidays are here. The twenty five days of Christmas are upon us. The festivities are in full operation, from Hyde Park Winter Wonderland to the South Bank Christmas Market to ice skating at Somerset House to the posh Oxford Street department stores having a silent war over who has the best Christmas window displays (I am biased towards John Lewis because of the penguins and the commercial that made me cry). I've had my Thanksgiving, and I have two weeks left until vacation. That's one essay, sixteen class hours, and a few hundred more pages of reading. The reward is sweet: I am going to Spain for a week, and what a relief it will be. This is definitely the most wonderful time of the year.

By mcbitter

10805259_10205383992308083_416554692_nI know it's only mid-November, but that doesn't mean I can't get excited for Christmas! This weekend, my friends and I went to the Christmas markets on the Champs-Elysees, and let me tell you, they know how to do a market! On each side of the avenue were little shops full of handmade crafts, jewelry, ornaments, you name it. I found one particular shop that was different kinds of tea, all of which were named for various cities in France. Besides the shops, there were also tons of food booths set up - you could get crepes, waffles, German sausages, even cotton candy! It was absolutely wonderful and a great way to spend an afternoon. After walking through the shops (we only did half of them so that we can go back again!), we went for a ride on on the "grand roue de Paris" - the ferris wheel! It gave spectacular views of the city and was well worth the ten euros. Next time, I also want to check out the ice rink that was nearby.

Speaking of holidays, Thanksgiving is coming up, right? As sad as it is, you can't find this gem of a holiday outside of the United States, so that's probably why France is already focusing so heavily on Christmas. (Or that might just be the norm now.) We have a Thanksgiving dinner planned with our program though, so I'll definitely get my turkey! As for all the other traditional favorites, there are quite a few specialty food stores around the city that offer them - stuffing, cranberry sauce, the works. This will be my first Thanksgiving away from home, but everyone here has become my family too, so I have no doubt that it'll be wonderful!

By nmbutler3

Christmas, particularly the time leading up to the holiday itself, is without a doubt my favorite time of year. Since I don’t get back to the states until JUST before Christmas, spending the season abroad was initially a bit concerning – no family, no secret santas, no warm house smelling of cookies and pine to come home to, no rush of Black Friday shopping or trying to sneakily hide gifts. But as the holidays draw nearer, I am starting to really appreciate Christmas in Edinburgh and the UK more generally.

Some things are a bit different of course. The most apparent is probably the lack of holiday buffer. Now I realize that this may sound strange, but allow me to explain. The buffer time that Thanksgiving provides between Halloween and the winter holidays is key to making the season such a magical time. In the UK though, with no Thanksgiving to impede the oncoming headlights of Christmas, garland and ornaments and Santas start appearing just after Halloween-that's an entire extra month of Christmas prep! Not that I am complaining, a little extra holiday cheer never hurt anyone, but it does take some adjustment to get used to not hearing people gripe about decorations in shops in November. There are some benefits though to not having Thanksgiving though, mainly the appreciation for pumpkin pie. I cannot count the number of British people I've met that have never had real pumpkin pie before. Needless to say, I racked up some serious friendship points last Thursday. Now that the Thanksgiving buffer has officially passed, I'm finally able to appreciate all that Scotland has to offer during the holidays. There have been two experiences in particular that have really upped my holiday cheer. The first is the scenery of the snowcapped highlands in the winter. Although the middle and southern belts of Scotland don't really see any snow until late December-January, the highlands up north are already a winter wonderland, with snowy mountains and twinkling lights and little villages full of cottages, all with smoke rising from the chimney. It's just like falling into a Christmas card. Not to mention, up in the Cairngorms National Park, there is an actual reindeer center where you can see an entire herd of reindeer. The other holiday experience was right here in Edinburgh at the city's Christmas Village festival. With so much extra time for prep and anticipation, Edinburgh spares no expense when it comes to the holiday. The entire central Princes Street Gardens are transformed into a Christmas village to rival the north pole, complete with ice skating, a slew of hot beverages, holiday bakery and other foods galore, Christmas crafts and gifts, and a Christmas theatre where the show a different play each week. There is even a giant Ferris wheel that overlooks all the lights and sights of the city. It's literally like being a kid at Christmas again! Of course, even with such magical experiences, being away from friends and family at the holidays is still very difficult, but you just have to make the most of it and enjoy the holiday traditions with a new twist.

By arosema93

Celebrating the holidays away from home can be tough, especially coming from a tight-knit family. Being in DC for the last few years has helped to prepared me for celebrating on the other side of the world. However, Australia makes it easy on us Americans by not celebrating some of the best holidays and generally ignoring their existence. As everyone already knows, this week was Halloween, but, of course, its not celebrated here. Thankfully I have some American friends here and enough keen exchange students to still throw a party. But all I can help thinking is, “What about the children? Where is the sugar rush that allows every elementary student to make it through the month of November?” Although sad for children everywhere, I’m sure they will survive. Thanksgiving is also a tough one to be away from home for, but many Australians don’t even realize it exists, which makes my job of ignoring it quite a bit easier. Unfortunately, however, without Thanksgiving, Australians have failed to place any restrictions on when it is acceptable to begin stocking stores with Christmas decoration and playing Christmas music on the radios. Christmas will definitely be the hardest to spend away from home though, and will be made even more confusing by the reversed seasons. I wonder if the Salvation Army Santas will still ring bells in full Santa outfit when it is 90 degrees outside. Fortunately, my friends here are like family to me and many have offered to have me come celebrate Christmas with them. And besides, this gives me the perfect opportunity to teach others about American holidays and learn about ones from other cultures. For example, Canberra even has a public holiday that everyone gets off of school for “Family and Community Day”. Sounds ridiculous but I’m not going to complain. While it can be sad to be away from family during the holidays, I think one of my favourite parts of living in a foreign country is the opportunity to celebrate twice as many holidays.