To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at damselwithadulcimer.wordpress.com and my theatre reviews at www.playstosee.com
Christmas is an expensive time of year, even more so with the state of the current economy. It doesn't need to cost a fortune and there are plenty of free festive events around London. So whether you celebrate the religious or the secular side of Christmas check out some of these ways of enjoying yourself without breaking the bank.
Christmas Lights are twinkling and shining everywhere and you don't have to pay the electricity bills. The main offerings are in Oxford and Regent Streets where you can see the overhead lights and enjoy the window displays of the various stores and shops. However don't neglect some of the smaller shopping streets such as St Christopher Place, Carnaby Street, Marylebone High Street and South Molton Street.
Take your children on a bus or car ride (I know you'll have to pay the fares or the cost of the petrol) and try to see how many Christmas Trees you can count in the windows of peoples' homes. This was a big favourite when we were younger.
Visit the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland as recommended by Trev M. Admission is free, as is entry to Santa's Grotto. When you consider that it can cost anything up to £10 to see the man in red in a department store, I consider this to be a real bargain.
Santaland in Hyde Park
Visit the Southbank Christmas Market. It costs nothing to get in and you should be able to sample some of the foods on offer without paying a penny.
We're lucky to have so many free museums in London. You could pop into the British Library and spend time at the Dickens: A Hankering for Ghosts display. You could also take yourself (and your children) to the Geffrye Museum to learn about Christmas Past and your children can open a different window of their online advent calendar every day.
Trafalgar Square is always a focal point of London, especially at Christmas. In addition to admiring the giant Christmas Tree, a gift from the people of Norway, you can enjoy the carol concerts that take place every day. How much more Christmassy can you get?
Let's not forget the religious significance of Christmas. Many churches have free carol services on offer. Even non believers enjoy singing their lungs off at this time of the year and joining in with Christmas Carols. You could see what your local or parish church has on offer, or you could check out some of the churches in central London or the City. You can't get grander than attending St Paul's Cathedral or Westminster Abbey You could also go somewhere different, such as Southwark Cathedral or The Temple Church.
Churches tend to have wonderful acoustics and many offer free concerts. Often these are ticketed, but St Lawrence Jewry has a beautiful organ concert of Christmas music at 1pm on 13 December. St Martin's in the Fields runs an annual programme of concerts down in the crypt, and some of these are also free.
Not forgetting that Christmas is a religious festival, Martha Fiennes has created a modern day nativity scene, using live actors and digital technology. This can be viewed daily in Covent Garden.
If you're Jewish, you may want to visit Trafalgar Square on 20 December at 5.45 pm for Chanukah in the Square. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, will be present at the lighting of the first candle of the London Menorah to celebrate Chanukah 5772. There will be free music and entertainment and free doughnuts.
Chanukah in the Square
I hope by now that you've got the idea that you won't have to spend a fortune in order to enjoy yourself over the festive season, so what are you waiting for?