Christmas; a time to love, a time to give, and of course, a time to shop. Living and working in the UK's famous capital, I am surrounded by luxury goods and exclusive brands in a city steeped in historical arts and antiques. London truly comes alive during the holiday season conjuring up a visceral jolly energy that sparkles through the streets.
From bustling Oxford Street to posh Knightsbridge, hippy Camden Town to operatic Covent Garden, shops and markets are bursting with festive cheer, overflowing with merry delights and twinkling with gleeful mirth. Renowned for its elegant fashion heritage and wealthy custom, Harrods has a world famous Christmas department that oozes decadence and splendour. The sight of the store lit up in all its grandeur is sure to warm even the coldest of hearts as the extravaganza of bulbs lights up the night sky. Selfridges too, tantalises merry shoppers with its magical window displays while Hamleys toy store has children practically sprouting tinsel out of their ears with excitement at all the gadgets and gizmos on offer.
Yet, as I roast my chestnuts over an open fire and mull over my wine, I wonder, beneath all the opulent London merriness, has the season of Goodwill lost its true meaning? Are we now so consumed by our materialistic needs that we have forgotten what we should really be giving? Every year I waddle through the shopping masses, disguised as a yeti in my winter garb, breathing in the pine scented air and humming along to the carolling crowds. A drunkenly jubilant atmosphere blankets the streets and a giddy present-buying fog settles on the ground, but the divide between rich and poor has never been so crystal clear.
The festive frivolities may be in full swing, but it is hard to pretend that we haven't seen those who will not be enjoying such a merry holiday. Dickensian though it may seem, there are many people without a home or family around them and Christmas is when they feel it most. Charitable organisations are numerous in the capital, but philanthropy seems to take a backseat when most working Londoner's headspace is taken up with pre-holiday deadlines and coco-filled nights. Or so I thought.
Admiringly, it would appear that it is not just the likes of Ebenezer Scrooge who is able to turn a chime of despair into a tune of hope. Many UK volunteer groups are making a stand against commercialism, from helping the homeless to sponsored carol singing. With some 8000 volunteers, Crisis runs Christmas Centres throughout London from 23rd-30th December to provide rough sleepers with food, entertainment, housing advice, and even haircuts, dentistry and manicures. The London Mobile Christmas Service operates a mobile food, medical and clothing service for the homeless and vulnerable. And for the slightly less proactive, Shelter allow the public to help the homeless without even leaving the comfort of our own homes, by paying to record our little ones an online personalised Christmas message from Santa. All the proceeds provide accommodation for children in need at all times of the year.
Sponsored Santa runs, charity carol concerts and shoe-box gift-wrapping provide plenty of opportunities to band together as a community and help those less fortunate without the pressure of long-term commitment. Christmas is a time for celebration, laughter and togetherness, and in a world that often forgets the simple kindness of humanity, it is heartening to see a glimmer of hope in the darkest of times.
So amongst the mince-pie induced delirium it would seem that beneath all the twinkling lights and sparkly baubles, for Londoners the true spirit of Christmas remains.