Christmas in London
I thought you’d like to know what Christmas is like for me, a 32-year old woman living in London. I live with my boyfriend Alex (we’ve been together since we were 18), and we own a big apartment next to a park in London. We both work, we earn about 2/3 of the national average wage, and we don’t have any children. We always try to do the same things we did (or wanted to do) when we were kids on Christmas – no responsibilities, lots of games and silliness and TV, that sort of thing.
Christmas really began for me on Saturday 11 December, we went to the local garden centre and bought a big Christmas tree, seven feet tall and very bushy. That night some of our friends came round to drink mulled wine, eat nuts, and to help us decorate the tree with glass ornaments, gold-sprayed pine cones, strings of beads and fairy lights, chocolates and candy canes. Over the next couple of weeks I also decorated the apartment with holly, ivy and evergreen branches cut from the garden (we are lucky to have a small garden that backs onto a public wood), and a huge bunch of mistletoe hanging in the hall (it’s traditional to kiss people under mistletoe). I also hung up strings of paper Chinese lanterns, and set out the three music boxes that I have been given over the years on the mantelpiece over the fireplace – a Bakelite (plastic) nativity that plays Silent Night (which used to belong to my grandma), a large snowglobe which plays The 12 Days of Christmas, with all the things from the song inside it, and a china snowman that plays Frostie the Snowman.
Since then, many of our evenings have been spent either going out to parties, shopping for food or presents, or cleaning and decorating the house in preparation for the holiday. We have been to a couple of parties held by my friends, as well as six work-related parties. We have also sent out about 80 Christmas cards. The ones we have received are standing all over the living room, on top of speakers, shelves, the mantelpiece, on tables, etc.
Still to come:
Christmas Eve: We will both be working until about 5pm, and then we’re going to go home and shower and go upstairs to spend Christmas Eve with a couple of friends who live two floors up from us. We will eat good sausages or ham, smoked salmon, cheeses, lots and lots of nuts in their shells, mulled (hot spiced) wine; sherry, and mince pies (mincemeat is a sort of sweet chutney made of vine fruits, citrus peels, spices and brandy), and will probably exchange gifts and get very drunk. When we get back downstairs to our flat, we’ll hang up our stockings under the fireplace, and then later, when we think the other one is asleep, we’ll go back and fill them up with gifts. If I can’t sleep (and I usually can’t), I like to read Sherlock Holmes-type detective stories or fairy tales by lamplight.
Christmas Day: We are going to spend Christmas together at home. As usual, we’ll open our presents in bed, and have buttered toast and marmalade and coffee for breakfast, check the email, and then have champagne with home-made sloe gin (a “Darcey Bussell” cocktail) while we are making dinner. I will do all the cooking, and Alex will be my assistant and also do the washing up. Traditional music to play: Handel’s Messiah, Christmas carols, Phil Spector’s Christmas Album, and old Christmas hits, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, CDs of musicals, that sort of thing. Basically anything I can sing along to. It’s not really my boyfriend’s type of thing, but he indulges me.
Christmas dinner: We’ll be eating at about 2pm, by candlelight. We’ll pull crackers and wear hats, and then I’ll serve up dinner. My boyfriend is a vegetarian so I am making him a steamed pudding full of mushrooms and stout (a type of dark beer). I am having a pheasant, which I ordered from a local butcher. We will also be having sage and onion stuffing (because we both like it), Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes and mashed parsnips, lots of good red wine, and afterwards, Christmas Pudding, which is a ball-shaped, dark, rich, spicy steamed fruit pudding. It is traditional to pour brandy over the pudding and set it alight and bring it to the table in flames. It is eaten with thick cream. Afterwards, we will have Stilton (a type of rich blue cheese) and oat crackers and port (a dark fortified wine) even though we will be absolutely stuffed by this point. Now unable to move, let alone speak, we will slump in front of a movie on the TV. BBC2 is showing Some Like It Hot which we both love, so we’ll probably start with that before moving on to a good thriller, ghost story, comedy, or martial arts movie:) Contrary to what some believe, watching the Queen’s speech is NOT part of most English peoples’ Christmas! We will also ring up our friends and family to say hi.
Later on in the evening, we will probably eat sandwiches, satsumas, more nuts, any chocolates that we were given, and a Yule Log, a chocolate cake in the shape of a log, covered in dark fudge icing and scored to make it look more log-like, with a plastic robin on it and icing sugar “snow” all over it, and play any games we were given, both computer games and board games, read, play with the pets, watch more TV, drink a lot, dance around to any new CDs we bought, that sort of thing. By the time 11pm comes round, I will crawl into bed, exhausted, although Alex likes to potter around the apartment at night.
Boxing Day: My family will probably come by on Boxing Day, and we will all eat, drink, exchange gifts, play games, etc.
After Christmas: we will go and visit my boyfriend’s family, go to the sales to spend any money or vouchers we were given, restock the larder for New Year’s Eve, go for country walks, visit other friends, maybe go to the cinema. We will also be going to the pantomime with friends and family, this year to see Dick Whittington in Greenwich, although usually we’d go before Christmas. At some point we will drive over to France to stock up on booze for the New Year, which we will be spending in London. On New Year’s Eve, we are going up to the River Thames with about a dozen friends, all in fancy dress, to watch the fireworks and the riverside extravaganza, and then walk down to a friend’s boat, moored near Greenwich, for a party.
As you can see, eating, drinking, meeting friends and family, playing games, watching TV and sleeping are the main parts of the Christmas season for us. Christianity is an almost non-existent part of the celebrations, and if anything, I would imagine we celebrate the season more in the style of the pre-Christians, with feasting, evergreens, singing, and gathering around with friends and family. I love Christmas, it’s my favorite time of year.