Peace and goodwill to all men is a powerful idea that continues to underpin our favourite holiday season and as 2016 draws to a close, Londoners will be looking to take large reserves of these qualities forward into the new year. Globally, the last twelve months have been eventful both politically and socially, but the London is nothing if not adaptable and tends to see its glass as half full rather than half empty. Seasonal activities like pantomimes, Christmas markets and carol singing are seen, not only as escapism, but as platforms of good cheer, wellbeing and hope for the coming year. Whatever you will be doing, we hope you will make the most of this much-loved season.
That most heartwarming of morality tales is set to a vibrant score in this musical interpretation of the Charles Dickens classic. Ebenezer Scrooge is a parable for today’s culture of greed and consumerism and we can all see elements of his philosophy in the modern penchant for wealth accumulation. When the fates intervene and show him the error of his ways, his conversion is total and whole-hearted and it’s this complete turnaround on Christmas Day that gives us all hope.
The story is set to a stylish score that is guaranteed to both pull at your heartstrings and get your toes tapping. There’s great ensemble dance numbers, stunning solo performances and a thrilling grand finale. The London Musical Theatre Orchestra is a cracking team of players from all over London’s West End so don’t be surprised if they sneak in some Theatreland favourites. https://www.lyrictheatrelondon.co.uk
To get into gear for the festive season, leave your garish jumpers at home and give the mulled wine a break and head to Fitzrovia for an evening of contemporary Japanese culinary magic. Roka is several evolutionary levels up from the usual noodle bar/sushi outlets that populate central London. The menu is inspired by a massive, centrally placed, robata grill which produces cuts of meat and seafood of outstanding succulence and taste. Baby back ribs, lamb cutlets and scallops are all cooked to stunning perfection.
There are no starters per se, as diners get to eat whatever comes off the grill first, but the food is so good that all protocol is liable to be forgotten anyway. Black cod, grilled asparagus and shrimp tempura are all expertly presented and served by staff who are friendly, knowledgeable and patient with customers whose eyes are bound to outstrip their bellies as they see yet another delicacy go to a neighbouring table. The cocktail list is where Roka really gets festive and the Fig Manhattan is the sort of drink that warms you from the feet upwards rather than hitting you between the eyes – perfect for Christmas. https://www.rokarestaurant.com/roka-charlotte-street
Those clever people at Kew Gardens have created their very own fairy kingdom, using mostly just plants and lighting. The attraction takes the form of a nighttime nature trail that twists and turns through landscaped gardens and exotic shrubbery. Water features are used to wondrous effect as coloured laser beams bounce off the surfaces and back into the night sky.
There’s a timed entry policy which isn’t as draconian as it first seems as it allows each visiting group to get the most out of their journey. You get a chance to stop and wonder at not only the illuminations but at the wonderful translucency of some of the botanical specimens on show. At the end of the trail, there’s Santa’s grotto plus lots of treats for the little ones as well as some welcome refreshments. https://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens
For a truly traditional celebration of the birth of Jesus, St Paul’s Cathedral is the place to be on the 25th of December. It’s a location central to British culture, having witnessed war, disaster and royal weddings over the centuries and it remains close to the nation’s heart. It also has some of the most haunting acoustics that you’ll ever hear; perfect for sung celebrations of faith, hope and love.
Christmas Day sees the Bishop of London presiding over events as exultant carols are sung by the much celebrated cathedral choir. There will be a live nativity scene and a message from the Dean of St Paul’s. Evensong is a more congregational event, whereas the carols are less complicated and therefore easier to sing along with.
A particularly British form of Christmas entertainment, pantomime is the ultimate audience participation event. In panto, the script is usually torn up midway through the second scene, giving the actors freedom to improvise, play to the crowd and make any number of pop culture references.
Cinderella starts out as the story of a poor young girl destined to marry a prince but soon morphs into a cavalcade of entertainingly bad jokes, outrageous costumes and knockabout humour. Panto veterans Paul O’Grady and Julian Clary shepherd a gang of TV celebrities through the story with plenty of audience asides and jokes at the cast’s expense. Great stuff. www.cinderellapalladium.com
Returning bigger and better this year, this is a Yuletide programme that brings together a broad range of entertainment and attractions. In keeping with the venue’s growing reputation for alternative forms of expression, 2016 sees the arrival of NoFit State, a contemporary circus company with plenty of edgy acts who like nothing better than getting the crowd involved.
From mid-December, a special production of the acclaimed Million Dollar Quartet musical will take up residence in the festival. Based loosely on the legendary jam between Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, it promises to be a rock ‘n’ roll treat. In addition to these events, a Christmas market and a roller disco are on hand to keep all the family entertained. https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/
Those looking for a fairly traditional festive music programme will have plenty to choose from at the Royal Albert Hall this December. Raymond Gubbay is the acknowledged master of events aimed at the popular end of the classical market and Christmas is almost tailor made for his unique combination of costumes, choirs and candlelit string sections.
Events, which take up most of the second half of December, range from the relatively high-brow Handel’s Messiah to the jolly Christmas Carol Singalong. In between these you can enjoy a full organ recital, a choral masterclass by the Kings College Choir or an atmospheric candlelit programme from the Mozart Festival Orchestra in full period costume (the orchestra that is – you can where whatever you fancy!).
From kiddie play venue to serious hipster hotspot – how did ice skating in Central London get so on-trend? The answer has to lie somewhere within the historic surroundings of Somerset House. Its ornate balconies and windows overlook a courtyard that is the perfect setting for an elegant spin around the ice. In successive years, Skate at Somerset House have carefully added a number of cool attractions for those who like their apres-skate to be a little different from the norm.
Internationally famous DJs are lined up to keep the vibe on the right side of chilled and catering duties are filled with some panache by Fortnum & Mason who will also be running a pop-up Christmas market. A skate school provides lessons to all ages and the Polar Bear Club is available for the under eights. https://www.somersethouse.org.uk
Constructed as a monument to Olympic achievement, the Orbit was at first thought to be a brave piece of sculpture that might be forgotten in time. Instead, it has been repurposed as one of London’s most original viewing platforms and attractions. Around this time of the year, the Orbit looks particularly festive as its bright red frame stands out against the greenery of the surrounding parkland.
At night the views are spectacular and the recently installed slide is a massive 178 metre-long thrill that brings out the daredevil in even the most timid of sightseers. Over the festive season, the venue will be playing Christmas carols and supplying customers with mulled wine and mince pies. The decision about when to consume these delicacies: i.e. before or after the 80 metre drop is entirely up to you! https://arcelormittalorbit.com/
Backyard Cinema is a pop-up event that always gets the ambience just right. The film programming is a clever mix of holiday favourites and cult classics with the emphasis on a relaxed evening with mates rather than a dressed up geek fest. This December the movies scheduled will have an unapologetically Yuletide theme and as usual the food and drink choices are spot on.
Situated in the Mercato Metropoitano artisan food market, the cinema is accessed through a wardrobe/doorway which is reminiscent of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Inside there are comfy bean bags and lots of leg room which gives the screenings that “Friday night with friends” vibe. Films running through to the New Year include Elf, Beauty and the Beast, Home Alone, Frozen…..spotted a theme yet? www.backyardcinema.co.uk
The secret to a good Christmas lights display is simple – just concentrate! This doesn’t mean that visitors are required to squint really hard at the decorations, but if the lights are strung out over too wide an area, they tend to lose their impact. Jumbling them all together isn’t a good idea either and St Katherine’s Dock have got the balance right in an innovative and colourful way. Ingeniously using the harbour as a giant mirror, designers have moored a flotilla of decorations offshore thus creating a moving wall of light.
Pride of place goes to a 45ft tree, dressed with 14,000 lights which bob and sway with the current. Topped by a massive star the tree is programmed to put on a choreographed light show every hour on the hour and, combined with the elegant restaurants along the quayside, must be one of London’s best showstoppers.
One of the UK’s largest charismatic churches presents an evening of Christmas music focused on the spiritual realities that inform the holiday season. Hot on the heels of their youth ministry’s recent award at the American Music Awards for contemporary inspirational artist, Hillsong go about the business of sharing the story of Christmas in a clear and friendly way.
A mix of traditional Carols and original arrangements are supported by a great light show, clever set designs and informative drama skits as the nativity scenes unfold with drama and real emotional depth. www.hillsong.com
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