Tag Archives: ice-skating

Christmas in London

I’ll never forget my first Christmas in London.

Christmas Decorations, Burlington Arcade, London
Christmas Decorations, Burlington Arcade, London

In front of the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, the Christmas Village opened in late November. Every afternoon, in the early four o’clock darkness, crowds of kids whizzed in reckless circles on the ice-rink. It was here, in a prefabricated tent café/bar, among the “defeated by, not brave enough or too cool for the ice” crowd, I discovered British hot chocolate. Thick, sticky and sweet it slid across the tongue and ran down the throat like liquid velvet.

Alongside the ice-rink was the Christmas market, a collection of little wooden huts, selling cards and exotic wares made by unknown and forgotten people from faraway places. At its centre were a Christmas tree and a carousel.

Further up the road, in Harrods snow dusted, icicled window, Versace and Prada-clad  mannequins gazed out over silver ice-buckets stuffed with champagne and Venetian glasses, past silver dishes laden with caviar and pate de foie gras.

Up in Picadilly, at Fortnum and Mason, the windows re-told the story of the Twelve Days of Christmas, while inside floor after floor unfolded tantalizing sights and smells.

Of course, there were the pressing crowds, the decorated streets, the Christmas trees, the jolly old chap in the red suit, the last minute rush through the shops and the queues at the counters which characterise Christmas everywhere. But those ice-rinks, that hot chocolate and those particular shop windows, were something entirely new to me. I’ll always remember them as uniquely London.

 

Winter in London

There’s no doubt about it. London winters are dismal. The temperatures drop to numbers that can be counted on a few fingers. The days are few brief hours of gloomy grey light and night falls halfway through the afternoon. Yet, (at least for those who haven’t suffered through too many of them) winter is one of the city’s brightest and most cheerful seasons.

Christmas Village on Southbank
Christmas Village on Southbank

In late November or early December, borough by borough and with great celebration, the Christmas lights are turned on. So, for winter’s most dismal weeks, when the daylight disappears at 3.30pm, the dark streets are bright with flashing neon.

Shop windows are full of cheery fireside scenes, rich and colourful Christmas fare or warm, bright winter clothes.

Christmas villages spring up; huddles of brightly lit miniature chalets selling hot chocolate, mulled wine, mince pies and sweets, woolly hats and gloves and a thousand and one sparkling, glittering little knick-knacks.

The ice rinks open. Alongside tents are set up with bars selling mulled wine and hot chocolate. The skaters come out – the experts and the amateurs, the school kids and the after-workers – doing or just watching it’s fun and it’s hilarious.