Oh Christmas, a time of year that that strikes fear into the heart of every expat. From New Zealand you think its going to be all ice skating, mulled wine and Christmas jumpers. Wait, actually it totally is all those things. But what you don’t think about is the sudden horrifying fact that you are on the other side of the world from your family. No matter what your New Zealand Christmases were actually like (good, bad, drunkenly waxing your sister’s legs) you will remember it through rose tinted glasses and wonder – what the hell am I going to do for Christmas in London?
The common tactic is the Orphans Christmas, where all the sad lonely expats gather together and try to pretend its no different from Christmas at home. Normally assisted by a significant amount of booze.
Full disclosure before I get going, I fucking hate an orphans Christmas. I’ve tried to enjoy it twice now, and it just feels like I’m trying to compensate for the fact that I am not at home. Regardless of how nice the food, how well decorated the tree or how drunk my friends are, it is still quite decisively not home. I try to pretend it’s my sister that I’m annoying the hell out of, or that it is my Dad telling the terrible cracker joke, but its all just wrong wrong wrong in my heart. For all the meticulous mimicking plans it just feels like I am faking something, like I am Kim Kardashian contouring the world of Christmas.
Let’s be honest, at the end of the day Christmas isn’t about food or presents or the John Lewis TV advert – it’s about family. And there ain’t no magic in the world (short of £1,200 and 24 hours in an airplane) that can make your family appear on December 25th when you are living in the heart of London.
So I vowed to myself that I would do Christmas in London differently. Forget the weirdness of an orphans Christmas, if I was going to be 18,234km away from my family on this special day I sure as hell wasn’t going to try to re-create anything, oh no I was going to do something entirely different. I was going to spoil myself rotten at a hotel. Still making the day special, just special in a completely different way; different enough that I wouldn’t feel that ground shifting déjà vu feeling of an orphans Christmas. For me this meant finding a modern hotel, a damn good bottle of gin and a kick ass restaurant that I didn’t have to brave the cold for.
For my redefined version of Christmas I didn’t try to surround myself with the noise of a party to distance myself from the ‘weird’ feeling. I wanted the calm and the still so I could reflect on why, why oh why, I was living on the other side of the world and having Christmas away from my family. I wanted to have a day so ‘London’ that I fell in love all over again. I wanted to staycation so hard that even Santa would want to tell the children of the world to go fuck themselves just so he could join the day of awesome with me.
The hotel I picked was all important. You guys know Hubbard and Bell one of my favourite brunch spots? Well, it’s actually the restaurant in the Hoxton hotel which is heartrendingly cool (and they have free wifi). If this sad and lonely plan was going to work I needed to wake up in a room that made me feel amazing, and the Hoxton Holborn was my top pick. After stalking their website for about three months I managed to convince the team at the Hoxton Holborn to give me a press rate for my stay, but to be honest I would have booked even if they hadn’t.
I stopped by the supermarket and stocked up on all the important things that I would need for my Christmas for one. Champagne, cheese, chocolate, sloe gin, cheese, panettone and some more cheese. Oh and just to make sure I brought the Christmas spirit with me I actually brought my own Christmas decorations to splash across the room – including the pretty amazing Harry Potter one above. I opened the door to my room and with a giant sigh of contentment threw on pajamas and the brightest lipstick I owned and settled down to watch terrible terrible Christmas movies.
Somewhere between The Santa Clause 2 and the Santa Clause 3 I had to Google ‘how to open champagne’ – this may have been the only downside to Christmas solo. Being the smart cookie that I am I opened it in the beautiful black tiled shower just in case the champagne situation went horribly wrong. Don’t worry no champagne was harmed in the making of this blog post.
I had been a bit worried that no matter how awesome I thought my hotel idea was, when I woke up on the day I would be sad. As Christmas Day dawned I stretched lazily in my massive bed, I needn’t have worried. The Hoxton fairies had left champagne and orange juice on my doorstep so I could start the day right. I loved the morning skype to my family as I was sipping champagne, well rested and so god damn happy to doing Christmas on my terms. I couldn’t have felt happier to be waking up in London if I had tried.
After catching up on BBC Christmas specials I rolled downstairs to Hubbard and Bell to begin the other highlight of my stay, the Christmas feast. Over three courses, including my rather surprise decision to have the vegetarian option (I was originally going to go for the turkey) I reveled in the fact that I didn’t have to cook anything – it was literally all handed to me on a platter. Eating at Hubbard and Bell felt like the height of luxury, another ‘only in London moment’. The staff made it all so perfect as well, each going out of their way to get into the Christmas spirit (including the waiter who sang carols every time he cleared a table), it was all just so happy.
The nice thing about hotels at Christmas time is that it is full of odd ducks. There were big families, there were old and young, there were singletons and couples. All having fun. All just happy to be enjoying Christmas. I think I ate for about five hours that day, and once I had rolled back to bed to watch the Doctor Who Christmas episode I had no option but to finish up the champagne in my room – it would have been rude not to. I loved that I didn’t have to battle with the cold or the lack of public transport – it was all just beautiful food, skypes with family and Christmas love. It was a London Christmas on my terms.
This is 100% how I will spend every Christmas in London from now on. Forget trying to recreate something you can’t have, and then spend the entire day nit picking the differences between the two. I am going to make my Christmases special, I am going to make them count. Christmas is about celebrating the end to one year and the start of another; reflecting and drinking gin in a hotel seems to me to be the best way to do it.