Having lived in California my entire life, I feel like I’ve never had the full Christmas experience. There’s something about waking up every Christmas morning to sunny 60-degree blue skies that kind of takes away from the “magic” of the holiday. Every year during the holidays my family and I watch Love Actually (arguably my favorite film of all time), and I always envied how spectacularly beautiful it would be to spend the holidays in a place like London. When I was accepted into this program for the fall semester, I have no shame admitting that one of my first thoughts was how amazing it was going to be to be able to spend Christmas here. Yet what I never could have imagined was that my expectations would be far surpassed.
I have never seen any place that goes as crazy for Christmas as I’ve witnessed here. Every single street, no matter how fancy the area, is completely decked out in sparkly Christmas lights. There’s a different Christmas market every day. Restaurants and pubs transform their menus to include Christmas specials, and the amount of different spots you can go ice-skating is overwhelming. Not to say my lovely California home state doesn’t offer these options, but there’s something different about ice skating around a huge Christmas tree when it’s actually cold outside, or walking down the decorated streets in appropriate winter gear as you sip your hot chocolate. Another reason I think there’s so much hype surrounding Christmas is the fact that there’s no Thanksgiving in the U.K. Because of this, the celebrations begin as early as the beginning of November. As a result, the anticipation and excitement leading up to the holiday is maximized.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what is so special about Christmas in London. All I know is that all of a sudden, I’ve found myself planning my days around which Christmas street market I want to check out, or which spots are selling the best mulled wine. Being in London has made me more obsessed with the holiday than I already was at home.
Whether it’s because I’m from California, or the fact that there’s so much pre-celebration, the holidays here are really quite spectacular. Perhaps if I grew up somewhere like New York I wouldn’t be so mind boggled by the pure beauty I see in London every day, whether I’m walking down a random street in my neighborhood or at Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland.
Christmas here, more than in the States, feels more authentic to me. That might in part be due to the fact that all the Christmas craziness is actually accompanied by cold weather, but there’s something about the holiday here that feels much less commercialized. Though a lot of Christmas is about the cute holiday advertisements that go viral on YouTube, or the big Macy’s sales, that commercial craziness hasn’t been as apparent to me here in London.
For me, the holidays in London seem more about cherishing friends and family and less about the money or brands. People here are so passionate about Christmas and get so enthusiastic about all the holiday festivities that it makes it much more enjoyable to experience because it all comes from such a genuine place.
Whether or not native Brits shared this sentiment, I’m so grateful I have had the opportunity to spend a portion of the holiday season here. Everyone has always talked about how amazing London is around Christmas, but I could have never imagined it would be this wonderful. I’m surrounded by such beauty and joy everywhere I go, and in my final days here I’m going to continue taking full advantage of the British Christmas spirit.