And so Christmas is nearly upon us once again.
It is a pre-Christmas tradition for us to venture in to London with the kids to meet up with my parents and brother. The itinerary is generally the same. Dim sum lunch in Chinatown. Stroll down to Trafalgar Square to look at the giant tree. After dark, the top deck of a bus to take in the lights along Oxford Street and Regent Street.
This year was no exception.
We always used to do the Christmas market in Leicester Square too. More recently, though, we have started going to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park instead.
Winter Wonderland is expensive – take-out-a-second-mortgage expensive, with rides costing up to £9 each – and gets very busy in the evening but the kids love it. Kara demands to go on the scariest rollercoaster possible. Toby prefers the fairground stalls where he can win a giant cuddly toy (this year: a penguin). Isaac’s favourite is the dodgems.
There are also lots of market stalls and food vendors and it’s possible to get some fantastic aerial views too. Once the sun goes down, the entire place is bathed in lurid neon colours. It’s impossible not to feel festive – assuming the kids haven’t spent you out of house and homes, that is.
This year we even managed to visit Hamleys which, as you can probably imagine, was quite busy. Never mind kids in a candy shop, there’s nothing quite like kids in a toy shop a week before Christmas for seeing what kids are like when the excitement level is cranked up to 11.
And for once we took in Carnaby Street too, which was festooned with so many colourful lights and banners that it was almost painful on the eye. Imagine all the gaudiness of the Las Vegas strip but crammed into a narrow pedestrian street and you’ll get the idea. Like Vegas, it works simply because it is so unapologetically over the top. I loved it.
In truth, I often find Trafalgar Square and the Oxford and Regent Street lights disappointing. But the lights, crowds and general buzz of both Winter Wonderland and Carnaby Street are much more festive. When it comes to setting the tone, sometimes too much is just right.