I write this post on Christmas Day, when most students are back home with their family and friends. I, on the other hand, am staying right here, in London. Don’t feel bad for me though, I love it here! Christmas in London is definitely something worth experiencing, and after my Christmas Day today, I can definitely say that I have no regrets at all about staying back.
Before I actually go on about what I did for Christmas, I must mention what a different experience it has been seeing the build-up to Christmas over here. We do celebrate Christmas in Nairobi, but nothing like this! We have a summer Christmas (although I’m told it’s been raining this year) and the shops and malls are usually beautifully decorated. However, Christmas is usually more of a quiet, relaxed time. Here though, Christmas is a serious business. And I mean the business bit literally – winter markets, winter “Wonderland” parks, winter sales, winter menus and festive coffees, and of course the Christmas shopping – it all seems quite consumer-driven. But of course, it’s not all about materialism; I think London is also full of incredible festive spirit. The city is so beautiful with the Christmas lights and the giant Christmas trees. Central London in particular looks a treat! And oh my, the food – definitely the best part of this incredible Christmas culture is the amazing food! I love the tradition of mince pies and the yule log and all the other goodies! I could go on for ages about this, so I guess I should move on…
Every year, the LSE Faith Centre organises an opportunity for students staying in town over Christmas to attend a Christmas morning service at St Paul’s Cathedral with special reserved seating. It is free and open to students from all backgrounds and cultures, which I think is great, because, in my opinion, the Christmas spirit is universal! There is also a special Christmas buffet lunch hosted by the LSE Chaplain and Interfaith Advisor at his residence. Eager as I was to experience a traditional British Christmas, and to visit the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral, I signed up.
As I discovered, there is no public transport in London on Christmas Day – no tube, no bus, no trains. So it is walk or cab – or a third option, which I chose: bikes! Yes, the Barclays Bikes are available for hire on Christmas day. I hadn’t tried this yet, so I decided to take advantage of the empty streets (ergo a reduced chance of getting myself flattened on the road) and cycle to St Paul’s. I think it was definitely a good idea: the weather was great and it was an absolute joy to be riding on the deserted streets, plus it definitely halved the travel time.
When I reached the Cathedral, for a few minutes, I stood outside admiring the massive structure. But upon going inside, I could only gape in awe. Huge, colossal, imposing, spectacular, ornate, lavish, opulent – all of these words can well be used to describe it, but none of these words truly do it justice. The architecture, artwork and sculpture is a feast for the eyes and despite the grandeur, there is an air of tranquillity and warmth that resonates through the church. Upon joining the queue, I was quickly ushered to a row of reserved seats – right at the front of the Cathedral, under the world-famous dome! Oh, the perks of being an LSE student! 😉 The service itself was wonderful – there was a sermon by the Bishop of London and lots of songs/carols and hymns by the choir. It was a perfect setting for prayer or simply giving thanks for all that we have. And there could scarcely have been a more magnificent setting for it – the mild sunshine reflected in the huge pillars and arches bathed the cathedral in a golden glow, lending an aura of splendour to the proceedings.
Following the service, we trooped through the deserted streets to the Chaplain’s residence for a lovely shared lunch and a glass (or three!) of champagne. This was, according to me, a very kind and generous gesture from the Interfaith centre and one which demonstrates the great caring that they have for the students. For many people, this was a first Christmas away from home and to be able to spend it with others, to make new friends and just share the festive joie de vivre made a big difference.
The food was delicious (champagne, quiches, potatoes, bread and lots of cheese and mince pies….yum!) and there was a really convivial atmosphere, topped off with a Christmas Karaoke at the end. I think this is really one of the best things LSE does for students staying in town and it is a great way of making international students feel less homesick and more at home.
A bike ride back across the empty town and I was back in my room, reflecting on what had indeed been a most memorable Christmas, one that will always stay with me. Not because of the food or the music or the celebrations, but because of the sheer joy and spirit that comes with this occasion.
I hope you all had happy holidays! 😀