Christmastime in London

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… especially if you’re in London!  The lights are all coming out, and the stores are decorated with festive trees, wreaths, and Christmas ornaments.  I’m loving the general feel of it all; you can smell winter in the air, although some trees are still clinging to their leaves.  I took a walk down Regent Street the other night, and it’s absolutely magical.  Harrods is always fabulous, but in its Christmas best it’s better than being at the North Pole itself.  I’m just loving everything about Christmastime in London, and I’ve been learning a couple of things about Christmas in England.  First of all, how could I not try some mince pies?  I was actually surprised to learn that “mincemeat” does not necessarily have meat in it!  For those of you who don’t know, it’s mostly dried fruit, spices, and distilled spirits.  It can have meat in it, but the variety I tried did not.  The idea of meat and berries in the same pie is not an appetizing idea to me, but then again I haven’t had the opportunity to try it.  In general, I liked the mince pie.  It does have a very distinct flavor, not like anything else I’ve ever eaten (I mean that in a good way).

Another Christmas tradition I’ve observed, being sold in every supermarket, is Christmas crackers.  For the Americans reading this, no, it doesn’t mean snowflake-shaped Ritz crackers.  Christmas crackers are these things:

Christmas-crackers1

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about this Christmas tradition: “A cracker consists of a cardboard tube wrapped in a brightly decorated twist of paper, making it resemble an over-sized sweet-wrapper. The cracker is pulled by two people, often with arms crossed, and, much in the manner of a wishbone, the cracker splits unevenly. The split is accompanied by a mild bang or snapping sound produced by the effect of friction on a shock-sensitive, chemically-impregnated card strip (similar to that used in a cap gun).”  Why don’t we have these in the States??? We need to make this a thing.  Imagine being around the dinner table on Christmas night like this:

Crackers 13

So the lights, the mince pies, the crackers… everything is heading in the direction of December 25th (or as it would be written here, 25 December).  Obviously, Thanksgiving is not an obstacle the marketers of Christmas goods have to overcome here in the UK, so Christmas shopping is in full swing.  I’ll admit, I’ll very much miss the huge Thanksgiving feast with my family and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV, but I’m planning to have a little Thanksgiving feast of my own with both my American and British friends this Thursday.  Some American traditions absolutely must be observed, no matter where in the world you are.

In addition, I hear the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is pretty great!  Something I’ll be checking out later this week…

To expand on what I’ve just mentioned, here’s a good BBC article on the differences between an English Christmas and a good old-fashioned American Christmas: http://www.bbcamerica.com/mind-the-gap/2013/12/04/christmas-traditions-britain-vs-america/

One funny little difference is the use of “Happy Christmas” here in the UK instead of “Merry Christmas,” which we’re used to hearing in the States.  It seems like it should be the other way around, as “merry” isn’t a very common word in the American vocabulary…

Also, I was speaking to my British friend this week and found some more words to add to the list:

33.) turn signals (of a car)- indicators

34.) trunk (of a car)- boot

35.) hood (of a car)- bonnet

36.) windshield- windscreen

37.) RV/trailer- caravan

38.) bangs- fringe

39.) gasoline- petrol

40.) diaper- nappy

I’m so excited to see what other exciting Christmas markets and events I discover in London!

Harrods London

A couple of days ago, I had my first experience at Harrods. I choose the word “experience” rather than “visit” because it truly is an experience. Without actually having been to Harrods, it’s difficult to understand this statement. One’s first impression is, of course, the exterior of the building. Its iconic green awnings with the gold “Harrods” logo can be seen all the way down the block, and the brightly-lit Harrods sign glows like a Broadway marquis at night. Upon walking in the main door on the corner by Knightsbridge station, I entered the luxury accessories department. For me, it was reminiscent of Macy’s department store in New York City. Every designer label is represented in one of the many rooms. After walking past loads of gorgeous handbags and accesories, I came to the food section. I knew that Harrods had a food department, but never had I even dreamed of anything like this. Foods from across the globe are represented in each room, from meats and seafood to vegetables and fruits to the Willy Wonka-esque  confectionary. They also, of course, sell every kind of tea you can possibly imagine. I bought a sampling of champagne, pistachio, caramel, and dark chocolate truffles… the entire bag was empty before I left the food department. Next I went downstairs to the wine rooms.  I was absolutely in awe of the selection of wines they had. There were bottles ranging from £8 to £500, from all corners of the world. I purchased a bottle of French Claret to bring home with me. Walking through the jewelry department, my jaw was dragging the floor as I drooled over the diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and pearls elegantly displayed in their respective designers’ cases. It was the same upstairs when I went to the clothing department; my eyes were glittering as I looked down the row of Burberry purses and trench coats. Burberry is, by far, my favorite designer, but I wanted to cry when I looked at the price tag. I nearly bought a £1600 trench coat… then I looked in my wallet. I went to the homeware department upstairs and was in awe of the chandeliers, glass sculpture, and designer pieces fit to furnish Buckingham Palace. My two favorites were Waterford and Lalique. I particularly fell in love with a little glass horse done by Lalique, costing £220. Perhaps if I have some spare change at the end of my trip…

Going to Harrods is something I’ll never forget. It sounds rather silly considering the other places I’ve seen here in Europe, but it’s such a huge and diverse store that it’s quite overwhelming.  I was so overwhelmed, in fact, by the time I saw the third floor that I had to leave and tell myself to come back another time. I definitely will be returning to Harrods, hopefully several times, in the coming weeks.