My London Christmas Traditions
My husband and I were married in the month of December, and for the last six years, we have celebrated our anniversary by going to a Christmas Market in Europe. Christmas Markets are these magical places where you can eat, drink and be merry! Being from Texas, we didn’t really know anything about Christmas Markets. We had always been fans of the Texas Renaissance Festival or Crawfish Festival, which is held in the Spring. We love any kind of food or cultural festival, especially where we can try new foods and drinks. Note to reader: are you seeing a theme?
When we first moved to London, we would often go back to Texas for Christmas. I used to be a flight attendant, and for a while, we were able to get free flights. When that ended, so did the multiple trips to Texas. One year we made the decision to not go back for Christmas, and suddenly something changed for us. We were able to finally start our own holiday traditions. I remember grabbing the local press magazines to plan for what we would do. Time Out, What’s On, London Planner were all free magazines that were easy to read and highlighted all of the events happening in the capital city. I marked our calendar and away we went!
First, we discovered carol services. Carol services are church services where the choir sings and the story of the birth of Jesus is told through readings of the Bible from church clergy or senior members of the congregation. The general public are welcome to attend, as these are simply extra church services that they offer in the weeks leading up to the big day. There are some larger or exclusive services that require a ticket, but we opted for the free ones. Some churches offer free mulled wine and mince pies after the service. It is the perfect way to get into the Christmas spirit! So, our calendar is always full of carol services to attend. There are three that we always go to: St. Bartholomew the Great, St Bride’s Church, and St. Clement Danes. Of course, thanks to coronavirus, most of the carol services will not be on offer, or will somehow offer a virtual version. Oh, that reminds me — I need to buy some mince pies and mulled wine!
Next, we discovered pantomime. While school plays and local theatre are something that we both have in common in our childhoods, we hadn’t heard of pantomime before. I remember asking at work “What is pantomime?” and seeing my British office colleagues attempt (badly!) to explain and act out little parts that are iconic to panto. Bascially, it is a play (with music thrown in) where there is a hero, a damsel in distress, a widow, a bad guy (baddie as they say because it can be a woman), and lots of really, really, REALLY bad jokes. Audience participation is essential, as this is a family show where kids, parents and grandparents all come to the theatre together. The actors shout at the audience and the audience shouts back. Trust me, COVID-19 would have a field day at one of these pantomime plays! (which is why, sadly, many are not on offer this year)
Lastly, we discovered Christmas Markets. Our first “taste” was on the Southbank, where we fell in love with “Dutch Pancakes”. They are tiny little pancakes topped with Nutella or fruit and whipped cream. This market had little huts that looked like they were from Germany, so I researched and learned that most all German towns have Christmas Markets on offer. Thus became our annual anniversary tradition. Four days in early December are now always earmarked for a trip to the European Continent for some libation and devouring of delicious food.
Our first Christmas Market was Nuremburg. I read that it was the oldest market in Germany, and it also had the largest punchbowl. Sold! We booked flights and headed there. I splurged for an airbnb that was right on the main square where the stalls would be, and we had an extraordinary time eating sausages on sticks washed down with mulled wine. The large punchbowl offered frazenbolwn, consisted of a rum punch with a large tray of sugar which was lit on fire so the melting sugar could drop into the rum punch. My husband found his new favourite holiday tipple! Luckily, I cannot replicate this at home. When we went to Hamburg, we found that there were several Christmas markets, including one in the red light district that sold chocolate in various adult-themed shapes. When we visited Vienna, we also attended a carol service on the night Mozart died, the Requiem was performed in a very old, very cold cathedral.
Sadly, none of our tradition isn’t likely to happen this year in their normal way. We are “stuck” in London, which is never a bad thing. While many of the carol services I love to attend are not happening in person, they are on offer virtually. They have cancelled all the Christmas Markets, so I ordered German sausages and pretzels from a local German deli and I have made a delicious batch of gluhwein and Feuerzangenbowle. I'm ready to throw fake snow around the living room, and thanks to a few days of shopping, I have something to wrap up for under the tree. Tis' the season for a few new traditions to be made. As of today, London is in Tier 4, and we can only hope that next year we will return to our regularly scheduled programme.