John Vane: The many Christmases of London

John Vane: The many Christmases of London

“Who can be insensible to the outpourings of good feeling, and the honest interchange of affectionate attachment, which abound at this season of the year?” Charles Dickens rhetorically inquired in 1835. “A Christmas family party! We know nothing in nature more delightful!”

Depends on the family, maybe. And for at least one Londoner in 2023, having a family Christmas at all was always going to depend on how far Ryanair pushed its luck with seasonal flights to Riga.

Its dynamic pricing level rose too high for a woman who works in an east London shop, so she won’t be heading home for Christmas with her relatives this year, even if the idea appeals.

“Ticket is too much,” she says. “I will go in January instead.”

She’s going to be all right, though. The shop will be open on Christmas Day, this being London after all, but she will be off duty and her festive plans are made. Tomorrow will be spent with London friends. After food and drink, they will  collapse into a long TV afternoon just like millions of others across the country.

Londoners do Christmas Day in many different ways, including those who don’t do Christmas Day at all. The shop’s Muslim barista will be on duty and promises to wear his Santa hat. Its boss, coping with a bereavement, will be with his family, but in Turkey, avoiding the risk that his grief will unknowingly be deepened by his customers’ jollity.

Dickens, in his essay, urged his readers to not let even the cruelest loss spoil the calendar’s cheeriest day:

“Look on the merry faces of your children (if you have any) as they sit round the fire. One little seat may be empty; one slight form that gladdened the father’s heart, and roused the mother’s heart to look upon, may not be there. Dwell not upon the past; think not that one short year ago, the fair child now resolving into dust, sat before you, with the bloom of health upon its cheek, and the gaiety of infancy in its joyous eye.”

It seems a lot to have asked, even in Victorian times. London Christmases, though, have had a way of enduring in the face of death.

During the Blitz, stockings and presents were fashioned from cheap paper and Christmas Eve was celebrated in candle-lit air-raid shelters. The war also gave the city one of its loveliest Christmas traditions – the gift of a tree from a grateful people of Oslo, displayed in Trafalgar Square.

That tradition lives on and lives strong in this city of many faiths and customs, marked in ways as various as Londoners themselves. One way or another, have a good one.

John Vane is a pen name used by On London publisher and editor Dave Hill for sketches and fiction. Buy his London novel Frightgeist: A Tall Tale of Fearful Times. Follow him as John on X/Twitter. Photo from UK ambassador to Norway’s X/Twitter feed.

Categories: Culture, John Vane's London Stories

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