Holiday Cheer


I felt like I was in ‘Who-ville’ earlier this evening.

I walked up the hill with some neighbors to Highgate Village for the annual Carols night. Just as in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, all the villagers (and other neighbors close enough to walk) gathered at the town square and sang together. The local school band and choir accompanied and led the crowd of several hundred in the songs. And everyone sang! Buckets were passed along for donations to the local hospital. Everyone gave! There was no Christmas tree, no presents and no roast beast — just family, friends and neighbors singing together on a cold winter’s night. It was a great way to get into the spirit of the season.

People have been asking me about the holiday traditions I have seen here, and so far this is my favorite one. I understand that gatherings like this occur in many towns across England, and in other neighborhoods in London.

Of course there are a few other traditions I’ve noticed…

German Market in Rochester

German Markets are common sites during the holidays. The markets have rows of booths with all kinds of goods to sell – from gloves and scarves to preserves and perfumes. Food booths offer hearty German fare to eat while wandering the stalls. You can also buy cheeses, nuts, breads, wines and savories to take home. The Markets have nice lighting display — simple but magical. It is amazing to a weather-wimpy Californian, but they stay open in the cold and rain.

Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park appears to offer the largest Christmas Market in town. In addition to the usual fare and lighting displays, it has a bunch of carnival rides and an ice skating rink. They too are open rain or shine.  Outdoor ice skating rinks are another winter tradition. There are rinks all over town. Many are next to museums and palaces which adds to their magic.

View from the Ice Rink at the Natural History Museum

Holiday lights here are different than at home. Like home, all the big shopping streets have large and lovely light displays and store fronts, and many squares and small shopping areas are lit as well. Unlike home, very few homes have outdoor lights. You will see decorations and Christmas trees in homes, offices and restaurants but, except for the shopping streets, decorations are more simple and subdued in general.

Oxford Street Lights

I guess it’s no big surprise that the holidays seem a little less commercial over here than at home. Perhaps the surprise is that so many of the traditions and activities take place outdoors. It is a nice way to welcome and celebrate the winter season. And it’s a nice way to learn what it’s like to be a ‘Who’.