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Things to do in London at Christmas

6 December 2013 Jim Harrison,

Miranda Porter writes...

Thank goodness Christmas falls in the deep mid winter, because London can be a grey, flat mess throughout these cold months. However, for 25 days in December it is a merry metropolis; high streets swarm like sea beds, lights twinkle and The Pogues sing out across our town. I'm not a huge fan of Christmas myself, but anything that can make people this happy, even in these hard times, is worth a bit of exploration.

So if, like me, you find that merriment isn't an organic state, the best place for you to start is a pub. Throughout London, pubs heave with happy throngs where everyone is brother and best friend, united under a common haze of mistletoe and mulled wine, spilled beer and sticky carpets.  For toasty traditional afternoons try the Spaniards in Hampstead. Within this oak panelled hot box you're likely to find a hum of conversation, extensive list of booze, left over newspapers and most likely, a big dog to play with.  If you're looking for a jolly jostle head to Gordon's, London oldest bar embedded in the rocks just outside Embankment.   Canary Wharf has a surprising alternative with the Gaucho where you can see special wind-powered LED lights by  Dutch artists, Rombout Frieling, which respond to changes in wind power and direction, creating a colour-changing illumination in the shape of a sail.  Fun!

Christmas Carol Concerts are an obvious choice and there are plenty to choose from.  If it’s all about the hallowed atmosphere and anticipation for you, then head to St Paul's Cathedral on Dec 17th for a starry service, lead by songs and Simon Callow, held to raise funds for Breast Cancer.  However, for true aficionados,  you can join the merry motley crew at Hampton Court, where everyone can join in a sing-song in the candlelit courtyard, accompanied by the Epsom and Ewell Silver Band.

If you’re in search of a little bit of Christmas magic, the Enchanted Woodland at Syon Park is just the ticket, especially if you have kids.  The trail leads you around the 18th century estate where vast oaks are illuminated, reflecting rainbows on the lake below. A festive Secret Garden if you will.

Few scenarios are as heavy or loathsome as the panicked Christmas shop.  Like a building pressure cooker or grenade bereft of pin, the days in December quickly fall away, moving you steadily towards that fateful day where you have to own up and say “that’s from me.”  So if you aren't one of those smug shoppers who are wrapped and ready by Halloween, here are a couple of quick fix solutions;  they’ll take your money, but leave you with your sanity, and you really can’t ask for more than that. Aiming to celebrate 'the independent and original spirit of Soho', Berwick Street Market has been a Soho fixture for years, earning it the label of one of the capital's oldest markets.   As well as this, there is the jauntily named Colombia Road Christmas Wednesday  (which also happens on Saturdays) and boasts 50 participating stores along with carols, mulled wine and possible sightings of Father Christmas. If  your family are more likely to appreciate a bespoke feel, Creative Clerkenwell’s Christmas pop up is filled with designers from across the UK where you can find anything from jewellery to homeware.

And if none of that worked and it still is just another cold and continually dark day, there is one last hope.   On Saturday 21st , at the Southbank Centre, the classic Snowman is to be shown on the big screen, with Howard Blake's score played live by the Orchestra of St Paul's. Need I say more  - Snowman – big screen – orchestra.  Done deal.

Finally, one to avoid this Christmas, Westfield's 5D Grotto, I think we can all agree that adding two extra dimensions to an already intense situation is sheer lunacy.


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