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Christmas Adventures in London

So you want to go to London for Christmas, awesome!!! here is what you need to know… the good, the bad and the pretty dang ugly. 

My parents announced they would be doing Christmas in London and invited the kids and I for the journey.   My first thought was oh boy if I go to London that means Santa will need to go to London as well and I’ll need to pack accordingly. Pass the Tylenol, but where there is a will there is a way, and come on, this sounds like an adventure.  Santa… or shall I say Father Christmas? We will have Mince Pies and milk waiting, apparently that’s what one leaves out for Santa in England.

As soon as I decided we would be tagging along for the adventure and word got out to family and friends the oooooh’s and aaaaah’s of how special London is at Christmas started. “Oh the lights of London.”  I must have heard that from twenty people. Ok, so clearly London at Christmas is a thing, but I had no idea what was in store.

My excitement grew and my bah humbug attitude about packing started to fade. Now fast forward to us arriving in London. Conveniently our first stop was to Harrods toy store. The oh so famous and charming toy store, where conveniently I knew I could scoop up extra gifts I didn’t want to transport. My parents and I working as a team with winks, nudges and secret scooping up of toys into a bag that would be a Christmas Day delight since the kids had literally just pointed them out in the store.

I was so crafty with my certificates and small gifts I have to admit it was a bit of a letdown for the kids. They were so worried Santa wouldn’t find them in London. I even saw Pemberley cry a little bit about it as she drifted off to sleep Christmas Eve. In the morning Santa definitely came but there was no tree and not the usual display of gifts. My kids didn’t say a word but I could feel it wasn’t the big Christmas morning they had hoped for which hurt my heart a bit. Now Hayden and Pemberley are little, just 6 and 9. If they were a few years older this would have been a non-issue.

When booking an international trip, I tend to go overboard with plans and detailed logistics.  Both seem to go hand in hand with my type A personality.  I want to embrace all the locale has to offer including the sights, sounds, and events.  I have learned a thing or three in with traveling with kids.  There are only so many museums and sights kids will handle before an inevitable melt down occurs. 

Wood Allen once stated “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”  This international trip was no different than many others I’ve done with my kids.  I start with an Itinerary, but then life happens, and said itinerary goes out the window. 

We arrived in London late afternoon. I knew I had to have something exciting lined up right off the plane to head off the pending jet lag. I needed to entice the kids away from bed even though likely that was all they wanted.  What I didn’t anticipate was the mob of tourists that seemed to have a similar plan……Visit the London Eye. 

My family was limping along trying to navigate this confusing site.  Once on the eye the chaos melted away and it turned into a visit down memory lane as my parents pointed out their favorite locations. My parents were thrilled to be sharing their beloved city with their grandchildren. This was going to be a special trip. 

This brings me to a very important point in my story that everyone needs to take under consideration when booking a trip to London over Christmas. All the tourist sites are shut down the 24th, 25th AND the 26th, also known as Boxing Day.  What is Boxing Day exactly? Noooooo clue. I asked many many people and Nobody could tell me a thing except it’s the day when people go out for walks. Hmmmm. Ok.. I guess we will go walking. Lol. And walk we did…. they weren’t joking. Everyone was out and about walking.

The lights through the downtown streets were incredible, charming, magical and oh so unforgettable. I will never forget the massive blue angels lit up across the streets. It was as if all of God’s angels were in London. Everyone was taking pictures. It was so beautiful and I saw in that moment how London has this reputation of being a dreamy destination for Christmas. Also let’s not forgot the window displays and the way all the department stores were lit up and devoted to the magic of Christmas. London didn’t miss a thing. It was spectacular.

A rule of thumb, big cities are exciting with lots to do and see, but if you really want to experience a country and its people you have to get out of the city.  Getting to see how other people do life is fascinating to me.  It always has me evaluating my life and looking for areas I can tweak.  We had the opportunity to leave London and visit my mom’s dear friend Catherine Astor in the small town of Ink pen and the historic Kirby house. 

The trip was a cross between a Jane Austen novel and a Hallmark movie set in a Downton Abbey setting.  Visiting the Astor’s village, we learned about the great history of both the Kirby house and the surrounding town.  Stories were told of troops training for the Normandy invasion and lives lost over forbidden love. 

My favorite part of the visit was attending Mass at an old wooden church with the pews filled with the residents.  The whole village showed up for Christmas mass as we sang traditional Christmas hymns with candles illuminated the tiny chapel.  It was charming, quaint and idyllic. Following mass, we moved to the old rectory for some Christmas cheer and talk of politics and the traditional party nod and grin.   

I decided for my parents on Christmas to give the gifts of experiences as they fit easily into my suitcase. I bought a photo session with a professional photographer to document our wonderful trip and tickets to the theater for Christmas Eve. A trip to London isn’t complete without going to the theater. I chose Aladdin, as the show seemed a perfect fit for all ages, and it turned out to be a resounding success.  Since we didn’t have anywhere to go on Christmas Eve this was a great way to spend our time and make it a special day.

In theory my idea of the professional pictures was brilliant. I poured over ideas for the perfect place to have pictures and landed on Buckingham Palace.  Boxing Day was less than ideal for most activities, but for a photo shoot…..perfect. So two for one, we got to check Buckingham Palace off our must see list and get pics done. Now here comes the reality.

It turned out that the one thing open on Boxing Day are the department stores. So the mini part of this gift was getting a hair blow out for all the girls. I have to laugh now thinking back on this. The place I picked for the blowout happened to be in a department store which had a line around the block to get into and they warned me we couldn’t be late for the hair appointment or we wouldn’t be seen. Again where there is a will there is a way. We walked out of the salon coiffed and sort of torn in our heart missing our opportunity to do a bit of shopping.

We looked good. My mom and I in our favorite Sarah Alexandra shirts and Pem in a beautiful dress. We were feeling good, Uuuuuh.. or not. Sickness tore through the family and we were dropping like flies. During the photo shoot Hayden came down with a fever, Pem got a chest infection and then I got hit. Now, we all know when the nurse goes down….AKA Mom…we are in big trouble. 

We spent the rest of our trip holed up in our hotel nursing our ailments. I couldn’t believe the care we received from the Langham hotel and staff. Chicken soup over and over. They made us special tea’s with honey and the housekeeper even offered to go buy us medicine. My children were so grateful they tracked her down in the hotel to thank her and give her hugs. We needed to speak to the management to be sure they knew how awesome their staff was. Traveling during the holidays isn’t for the faint of heart, but traveling during the holidays with small children internationally is flat out for the brave. 

Looking back on the trip and knowing now that most of London would be closed would I recommend a Christmas in London?  The answer is a most definitely yes? The closures forced us to do what the locals do. Taking long walks as a family and looking at the fabulous lights and window displays. 

Reflecting on those long walks, no visit to a museum or tourist destination would ever surpass that memory.  However, the next time I would reconsider the dates. Maybe arriving a few days earlier, to have more time before the city is shut down for the holidays. I’ve been to London several times so missing the sites wasn’t a huge deal and my kids are so young they will likely have a chance to visit again.  

So, all and all, it was a great trip. If you asked my kids, they would say it was great. Memories were made, and it was an adventure which I’m always a fan of.  May your holiday season be filled with adventure, cheer, lasting memories. 

This article was published in Points Living Magazine, December 2019.

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