Though the days are short and often overcast, the holiday spirit makes London living much more pleasant. Here are a few traditions that I learned about this year.

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John Bishop Christmas Special: Priority Tix or Bust

The queue for the filming of John Bishop’s Christmas special circumnavigated the giant Lyceum Theatre, which regularly shows “The Lion King.” Unless you snag priority tickets and send a delegate to collect and distribute said tickets, arrive at least two hours early to have any chance of viewing the filming. Find your seat, perch the complimentary (and obligatory) Santa hat on your head. Then prepare your vocal cords for a bawdy, unorganized rendition of “The 12 Days of Christmas” coordinated by seat section.

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Advent Calendar: Extraordinarily Affordable Happiness

The advent calendars at the Pound Store advertised “Real Milk Chocolate” on the package, so I bought one for me and one for J. The visual countdown was lost since the calendars placed the days in a random order, and the paper doors did not open to reveal a cute holiday illustration behind the chocolate… But J and I played a game: stare at the candy’s outline guess the object it was molded into before popping it out of the tray and flipping it over. That’s a good deal of festive fun for a pound!

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Pubs Scrubbed Up & Mulled Wine for Days

The dimly lit pub is surprisingly elegant when trimmed with evergreen boughs, small white lights and traditional Christmas ornaments. The decorations make the gleaming pub opulent, but also homey and cozy. Slowly sip a mulled wine, the designated seasonal drink, and relax. The drink will take the chill right out of your bones.

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Traditional Turkey Christmas Dinner

No Christmas turkey for me since I recently celebrated Thanksgiving and because I worried about dissecting a giant chunk of fowl in front of my new work colleagues (since I’m prone to dropping food and sending food flying as I cut it.) However, I needn’t have worried since set Christmas menus solely provide two of slices of turkey breast, surrounded by some standard English roast trimmings: parsnips, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy. As expected, the mass-produced food only tasted so-so, but the communal Christmas dinner is still a nice gesture.  (I much preferred the sides cooked by J & SW, as pictured.)

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Desserts: One or Two Bites Will Suffice

Mince pies don’t actually contain minced meat; now they are stuffed with a spiced raisin and fruit filling. The fruitcake, with globs of dehydrated fruit, has a similar richness. A beverage to wash these desserts down is a necessity because the desserts are so heavy with a powerful and persistent taste, but the puff pastry mince pie is much easier to stomach than one made with butter crust.

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Christmas Crackers Ain’t Wizard Crackers

Wrapped cylinders placed on the dinner table are Christmas crackers, which are a bit anti-climactic after reading about wizard crackers in Harry Potter… Two people open one cracker together, one holding each end. Pulling the cracker apart causes a small explosion and the case to burst, revealing a tissue paper crown, a cheap plastic toy and a joke. I wasn’t expecting a magic trick or live mice to appear, but the random items in the cracker make for decent conversation starters.

I’m very looking forward to participating in more traditions next year and hopefully sharing them with my family (from the USA) if they come over! Where do you live, and what are some of your favorite holiday habits?