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.