London Lantern

Putting the Spotlight on London

Christmas In London - An American Family's Experience

25/01/2002, By David McIntosh

Reader Rating: 2.9 from 15120 votes

The scene is a picture of civility; as Christmas Eve shoppers scurry about making last minutes purchases, children wait patiently for a few moments with Father Christmas while in the restaurant, which is conveniently located on the same floor as the toy department, waiters in starched white jackets serve high tea and attend tables with quiet efficiency. Outside the evening is turning brisk and sidewalks are crowded with people loaded down with packages.

It is Christmas Eve; soon Harrods and all the other shops and stores will closing for the holiday. Can any city be more special than London? Only if it is London during the Christmas season - however, like most places throughout Christendom, London pretty much shuts down Christmas Day, so some planning is necessary if you don’t want to spend the day in your hotel room watching television and having your Christmas dinner in the hotel dining room. This past Christmas, along with my wife, daughter and sister-in-law, I was able to see how special spending the holidays in London can be.

The holiday season in London is a blur of activity yet on Christmas Day London bears little resemblance to the bustling metropolis of any other day of the year. Restaurants and stores are closed, shops are shuttered, the underground does not run and the only transportation to be found will be a limited bus service provided by private firms instead of London Transport.

Christmas Eve is insanely busy as everyone tries to get in their last minute shopping. London is one of the world’s great shopping cities and a number of stores will compete for your attention. For those with children the toy department at Harrods is a must visit place. Even though the UK has become more expensive over the years, prices on some popular items are actually competitive with those in the United States (my 8 year old daughter says Harry Potter items cost less in London because Harry is English). As evening approaches the lights on the Harrods building are a spectacular sight.

Another store that should be on your list is Fortnum and Mason, world famous for their food halls, as well as being grocer to the Queen. The story I’ve heard is that they started out in the days of sail as ship’s chandlers; a business that would provide all of a crew’s needs for long voyages and from there the business became a department store. The Christmas decorations in the display windows are also worth the visit. It’s right down from Piccadilly Circus.

You can, even though London is shuttered Christmas Day, experience a very special day in London and surrounding areas; a number of tour companies in recent years have started to offer Christmas Day tours to places such as Bath, Stonehenge and Canterbury. You have the chance to visit historic places yet avoid the crush of visitors you’ll find most other times of the year. The tours also include a Christmas dinner at a local establishment so not only will you be able to enjoy a traditional holiday meal but you can also do so in the company of your new extended family.

We decided on the tour that includes one of the morning services at Canterbury Cathedral and Christmas dinner in Dover.

Something about taking a tour on Christmas Day is that the streets are empty, which in turn means you get where you’re going a lot faster. In effect we received a tour of London as the bus headed in the direction of Canterbury. It was a good chance to take in the many changes since last London, which in recent years appears to be experiencing a burst of growth and rebuilding. The result is that Europe’s most historic metropolis is also Europe’s youngest.

Canterbury is a beautiful cathedral town, rich in history and is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury; as such it is the spiritual home to the members of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Since before the time of the present cathedral Canterbury has been a religious centre to the people of England; Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales tell the stories of a group of pilgrims making the journey in medieval times.

This Christmas Day the sermon was given by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey, and dealt with the unhappy events of September 11th; yet worshipping in a church that has stood since the middle ages and will most assuredly out-last the world’s current troubles gave those present reason for hope and optimism.

After a brief tour of the grounds and the old portion of Canterbury it was off to Dover and Christmas dinner.

Best known as one of the channel ports and home of the white cliffs, Dover too has seen its share of history. During the First World War Dover served as the home of the Royal Navy’s Dover Patrol. It was from Dover that the raid on occupied Belgian port of Zeebrugge originated. During the Second World War many of the little ships that played a role in the miracle of Dunkirk brought the exhausted Tommies back through Dover. On the promenade is a memorial to the crew of the little ships that made it possible for the British Army to fight another day. You can stand there, look across the channel, see France and ponder, for a moment, the courage of earlier generations.

The trip back took us through Folkestone, where the Eurostar heads beneath the English Channel toward Paris. By the time we returned to London night had fallen. London at night, especially with the lights and decorations of the holiday season, is spectacular.

The day after Christmas is Boxing Day, still a holiday; stores are still closed, but the city starts returning to life; the underground and buses are again running and streets are packed as crowds window-shop in anticipation of the after Christmas sales which will begin the day after. Tomorrow things will be back to normal, for a few days at least, remember New Year’s Day is right around the corner and once more London closes down for a day before springing back to life in the new year.

A final point to remember, while most visitors from North America and other parts of the globe visit London in the summer months most people in the British Isles and Europe visit London in December; while prices may be lower in the winter, there is a peak from around mid December until just before Christmas and prices then may be higher.

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Re: Christmas In London - An American Family's Experience

By Anonymous 01/06/2002, (Rating: 2.9 from 14147 votes)

I very much enjoyed reading this article as I along with my daughter will be going to London for a second visit but a first during the Christmas season. We will be there for 16 days until after the New Year. We have rented a flat and were concerned about what to do on Christmas day when everything shuts down. This article has given me some good ideas to act upon. I can hardly wait! Thanks for the great information.

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Re: Christmas In London - An American Family's Experience

By Anonymous 31/01/2003, (Rating: 2.9 from 13918 votes)

I really enjoyed reading this informative article about Christmas in London as our family is planning a trip to London for Christmas 2003. We had heard about the city closing for Christmas Day and are pleased to learn of the tours available.

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