Oxford Street, London with Christmas lights. / PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF Kyle Taylor (CC BY 2.0)
We were still toasting to the blessings of the summer and, yet, we knew we would be in London for Christmas. Somehow, from our gang of seven — all residents of the United Kingdom and originally from the Philippines of Spanish ethnic background — our schedules magically aligned to be in the city within close-by dates.
As early as two seasons away, we made a pact, a palabra de honor of an English Christmas lifestyle immersion. Most of us basically grew up together — some stood witnesses to weddings while others were committed as godparents to their children.
We would take turns to host exclusive dinners, explore weekend flea markets and even travel together to fabled hamlets and trendy destinations abroad. Together, we attended purely English activities, the Chelsea Flower Show, The Tournament at Wimbledon and concerts at Royal Albert Hall and the Ascot Races.
Our yuletide memoirs began in the chilly but festive Trafalgar Square, with a skyrocketing Christmas tree, an annual gift of gratitude from Norway for their support during World War II. With 500 white lights, the Spruce variety served as the center of Historical London, serenaded by carolers from chosen choirs.
One Saturday afternoon, we opted to watch The Nutcracker — a classic ballet featuring Clara, a young girl whisked to a magical adventure on Christmas Eve.
On alternate evenings, we admired and were awed by the bright street lights of Oxford of big-name brands fame, Carnaby with the hottest products from fashion houses and finally Regent where the biggest businesses would come to play.
All these sterling streets provided the much-anticipated nighttime illuminations Londoners and their guests have come to know and love.
Captivated by the impressive glow and yearning for more, we joined an open-top bus tour, welcomed by dressed-up Santa’s assistants. Close to Christmas Eve, the usual route around the squares and parks of Westminster and the Chelsea and Kensington boroughs had their own holiday displays — pilgrimage spots for all. Sloane Square and even the private ones, only accessible to those who reside within the area via a key, were also all dolled up.
Happily organized by the ladies for three consecutive days after work, we dropped by three leading stores — Harrods, which showcased a new Teddy Bear every year, while Selfridges offered daily events in partnerships with various brands. How could we ever forget Hamleys — every child’s dream as it would carry the latest most desired toys? Windows showcases delved on past holiday traditions, while others focused on modern designs.
Within the bustling foodcourts were their Christmas Hampers, customized by each store, but all cost less than the sum of their parts. These
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. / PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF Garry Knight (CC BY-SA 2.0)
often included pudding, fudge, biscuits, cookies and gingerbread men, marmalade, tea, cinnamon and apple cruds, a selection of cheeses and of course, wine and champagne.
Our last stops were the Christmas Grottos, portrayed as realistically as can be. Complete with functional fireplaces, we meandered around Santa’s very own full-of-cheer personal home. The best-friends-forever-of-kids reminded me of my youth, of the jolly chubby old man in the Coca Cola ads — with bright red puffy cheeks, a fluffy white beard and full of smiles.
This is where we first heard of the term Father Christmas — Santa Claus to you and me — plus the greeting “Happy Christmas!” instead of our familiar Merry Christmas.
We insisted to have Christmas high tea. However, all the lounges of top hotels were full for this well-loved ritual. We defaulted to our favorite and ever-reliable salon at the Fortnam and Mason, which we gladly voted for a repeat performance.
Lewisham Choral Society singing carols in Trafalgar Square for The Royal Society for The Blind. / PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF Ritawestscott (CC BY SA 3.0)20
Culminating in our commitment, we celebrated the Christmas Dinner in style, with all the trimmings bar none. Guided and inspired by our true-blooded English friends — before Google even existed — we had the traditional pièce de résistance, the Roast Turkey, complemented by stuffing, cranberry sauce, ham, roast potatoes and parsnips, red cabbage, brussel sprouts, boiled vegetables, plus apple pie and eggnog.
Oh yes, we did not pass up the Christmas Crackers — which looked like large candy wrappers in bright colors. Once pulled on each side, pop! it went while it spilled little gifts.
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