When I think of London at Christmas, I imagine everyone heading off to visit their family or jet off on holidays abroad leaving London pretty quiet apart from a few die-hard townies who enjoy the capital all to themselves. However, did you know that these ‘remainers’ can enjoy some fun and rather peculiar traditions over the festive period? See what you are missing as you enjoy your Christmas away from the madding crowds. I have included some of my favourites and I am sure there are many more to be discovered and enjoyed.
Firstly, for those of us who have forgotten to order their turkey in August, there is hope. Head off to the north-west corner of Smithfield meat market for the annual Christmas Eve meat auction hosted by Harts the Butcher. It’s been going on for over 500 years and you can understand why as you can pick up the best cuts of meat for a fraction of the price. This is not for the fainthearted as you jostle with the throngs of carnivores to try and vie for meat. Get there early on 24th December and be in place well before the 11am start. Bring cash of the folding variety and ensure you have space in your bellies or freezer for what you are about to receive! Watch your heads as the bidding starts and small joints of beef and pork are lobbed into the crowd. Don’t be surprised to see a turkey flying above your heads and even pigs can fly here as suckling pigs are flung with deftness and accuracy that makes you wonder whether this could become an Olympic sport. It’s 90 minutes long and is boisterous and loud and full of rather pagan enthusiasm. I wouldn’t miss it for the world!
If you enjoy a carol concert, sightseeing and love a late night, then Midnight Mass is for you. Choose from St Margaret’s, Parliament Square, St Martin’s-in-the-Fields, St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey or Westminster Cathedral (Roman Catholic) and you can get special access to these amazing spaces. Welcome in Christmas Day and enjoy a tradition that has gone on for hundreds of years. Each service will start around 11pm but check before you leave. It also means that you can have a lovely lie-in on the big day itself unless you have 10 pieces of meat to cook from the above auction!
There used to be many sporting fixtures on Christmas Day. Now there are no football matches to attend, you could take yourself off to the annual Peter Pan Cup. This event takes place every Christmas Day morning whereby hardy members of the Serpentine Swimming Club don tiny swimsuits and maybe a Santa hat and race 100 metres in cold water. Because the water is a balmy 4ºC, I repeat, 4ºC, only the regular members of the club take place but if you do fancy unwrapping yourself instead of presents and immersing yourself in ice cold water instead of enjoying a nice mulled wine, then join the club and get in there. Sherry anyone?
Traditionally, Advent was a time of fasting to prepare for the over-consumption of food and drink during the twelve days of Christmas. Nowadays, the run up to Christmas is filled with parties, dinners, drinks and yet more dinners so by the time Christmas Day is here, we are all a little fed up with the big bird and all the trimmings. Help is at hand. Did you know that the majority of Chinatown’s restaurants are open on 25th December? Perfect for those who prefer a prawn cracker to a Christmas cracker.
Twelfth Night was traditionally a big night of celebration. It is now more famous for people taking their Christmas trees down and placing them by the bins under cover of darkness in the hope that their council has a recycling programme! However, there is still an interesting London tradition that has continued for 222 years. Admittedly it is only for a small cast of people, literally, but nevertheless, it can still be enjoyed today, It is called the ‘Toasting in the Theatre Royal’. At this Drury Lane theatre, the cast of any show that is on at the time receives a glass of punch and a slice of Christmas cake. They then toast the memory of an actor, Robert Baddeley (1733-1798) who bequeathed money to help destitute actors as well as fund a twelfth night drink and nibble for those who had to work on this big night.
I don’t know about you but I would consider cancelling my holiday to Barbados or visiting the family in Yorkshire for just one of the above events!
15 December 2017
Thank you for the information on Robert Baddeley and the twelfth night tipple. I'll have to look into going to a show on the twelfth night to be part of the experience.