London's most weird & wonderful alternative Christmas traditions

Christmas is a pretty big deal in the capital. But it makes people do strange things…

Ever since drunken rioters took to the streets to protest against a ban on Christmas in 1647, Christmas in London has just become more and more popular.

The capital has been responsible for the introduction of notable Christmas traditions such as Christmas cards, carol singing, exploding crackers and inviting D-list celebrities to switch on Christmas lights.

Once Advent hits, Londoners and tourists alike go crazy for anything Christmas related, and as the countdown to the big day builds in intensity, so too does the oddness of what is going on in the capital.

So in addition to traditional traditions such as Christmas fares, ice-skating and fighting over cut-priced consumer electronics, a whole host of outlandish traditions have emerged across London.

1. The Serpentine Christmas swim

Serpentine xmas swimmers

The contestants in this ludicrous Christmas Day freeze-fest are hoping to get their shivering hands round the most coveted of all winter sports prizes – The Peter Pan Cup. Fortunately, your mates won’t be able to trick/bet/goad you into a pair of speedos, as this event is only open to Serpentine Swimming Club members. However, spectating and cheering is actively encouraged, so make it part of your early morning Christmas promenade – the event begins at 9am. To round off the eccentricities the event takes place to the wonderful music of bagpipes.

2. Prince George’s feedbag

Prince George Feedbag

On Whitehall stands the equestrian statue of Prince George, Duke of Cambridge.

The statue shot to prominence last year when a naked man in the grip of a psychotic episode scaled the statue and got stuck on the Duke’s head.

But what is lesser known is the Christmas tradition of putting down sawdust and providing the horse with a feedbag full of hay every year.

According to the Household Cavalry’s Facebook page, this has been a tradition for many years.

It says: “Just like most British regiments, the soldiers have their own little traditions that bond them as a team. It’s felt that the horse stands there for 365 days of the year and deserves a little comfort, especially at Christmas.

“Every year either the Blues and Royals or the Life Guards (whichever is on guard on Christmas Eve) put a hay net on the horse and bed it down, and on New Year’s Eve it gets taken down by the opposite guard.”

3. Giving animals gifts at London Zoo

Lion Christmas present

Animals probably don’t believe in the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but nonetheless, the creatures at London Zoo are compelled to celebrate Christmas too. In fact, each year, many of the animals receive Christmas presents from their keepers.

This year, meerkats and monkeys avoided the ‘naughty’ list and received Christmas gifts.

Last year, the lions stayed on Santa’s good side. Not so this year. We wonder what went wrong…

4. The Wintershall Nativity Play

Nativity Play

Adults in nativity costumes. No, we’re not sure about the chap on the right either.

Nativity plays are for primary school children right? Wrong. Every year in Wintershall, Surrey, genuine adults get dressed up as Mary, Joseph and the Three Wise Men to conduct an open air nativity play.

This year, the play is making its debut in London outside BBC broadcasting house. The event’s website says that it is “an entertaining ecumenical play for everyone, and a gentle reminder of the lovely Christian principles on which we are meant to live our lives.”

5. The annual Boxing Day Tube strike

Tube closed

Sadly this year’s Boxing Day Tube strike has been cancelled. Or “averted”, if you go by Transport for London’s terminology.

This will be the first time in four years the Tube will run the day after Christmas, a move which will surely go down in history as a great mistake.

Tube drivers were understandably desperate to uphold the tradition, but reportedly accepted a £350 “bonus” to go against the custom and provide subterranean Christmas revellers with transport.

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