By Nadia Read

It’s already December 8 – gulp. Thanksgiving is a distant memory and Christmas is, literally, just around the corner.  (15 days and 20 hours, according to my children and the Norad Santa tracker.) Well, let’s be honest, pubs in London have had their “Book your Christmas party” leaflets out since August when we were all still enjoying Pimms al fresco, so it shouldn’t be a complete surprise.

This will be my 3rd Christmas in London, and every year gets even more magical with new outings and traditions. If this is your first Christmas in London, make sure to add some of my favourites to your list:

 

  • “Panto” – Going to the Panto was not at all in my calendar 3 years ago, but is a staple in the UK Christmas season. Musical comedy and family laughter, every pantomime incorporates the requisite slapstick, double entendre, drag, and of course a celebrity or two. Generally running through the beginning of January, you are not too late to pick up tickets and enjoy a belly laugh with your entire family.
  • Christmas in Kew – take in the magical lights after dark and stroll through lit paths while sipping mulled wine and watching the amazement of wide-eyed children. Similarly, Syon Park features its Enchanted Woodland and many of the National Trust properties have fabulous events over the holidays for a day out of London. (Don’t forget a poke around the gift shops at Kew and the National Trust properties.)
  • Ice skating – one of my daughters broke her wrist ice skating at Somerset House last year, ouch, so skating is not on our family bucket list this year. (However…..I’m still thinking about a date night at Somerset House for one of their Club Nights – DJ, skating and the Fortnum’s Lodge for bubbly anyone?) Time Out offers a great round up of all the outdoor skating rinks.
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    Natural History Museum Ice Rink
  • Christmas movies – What are your favorites? Between holiday parties and school nativities, we always find time to snuggle in for Christmas movies. I’ve also planned a girls night IN next week to take a breather and enjoy some downtime with friends, wine, Love Actually and The Holiday. (Husbands relegated to the pub!) If you are headed out to the cinema, check out Pop Up Screens and holiday screenings at one of the Firmdale Hotels for something a little different.
  • Christmas lights – London has virtually been glowing for weeks now that all the Christmas light “switching on” ceremonies start as early as November 1. Stroll along Oxford Street, Regent Street, Bond Street, Carnaby Street, Duke of York Square, Covent Garden, Marylebone High Street to take in the festive sparkle. For a happy hour treat, book a table and sip cocktails with a view over lit up London: City Social in Tower 42, Radio Rooftop Bar at ME London, Oblix or Gong in The Shard, Sky Bar in the Millbank Tower, SUSHISAMBA at 110 Bishopsgate or the new-ish Sky Garden.
  • Food glorious food – Christmas means delicious food and lots of it. Borough Market has extended Christmas hours as of December 9 and plenty of entertainment, goodies and libations to satisfy any cravings you may have. Go for lunch, take the kids on the weekend, or do some early morning food shopping among proper chefs for your next dinner party. Heavenly….
  • Hotel décorOne of the best spots to see Christmas décor at its finest is in the top hotels of London. For some modern bling during the day, book afternoon tea and nip in to see Claridge’s 2015 Christmas tree designed by Burberry’s talented Christopher Bailey. (I wonder how many gold and silver umbrellas form the tree?)  Before enjoying drinks in the Punch Room or dinner in the posh Berner’s Tavern at Ian Schrager’s fashionable London Edition Hotel marvel at the 20-ft Christmas tree designed by Mark Colle. Individual flowers, ivy, and moss make up the tree designed in Belgium by Raf Simons’ go-to floral designer. (Remember the magical floral rooms in the film Dior and I? That was Mark Colle.)
    Petersham Nurseries
    Petersham Nurseries
  • Shopping – I could go on and on here. Deep breath. I have one friend who annually books an entire Christmas shopping day with a girlfriend and they never leave Selfridges. Others are devotees of Harrods, Liberty, Harvey Nicks and of course Hamleys for the children on your list. There are High Street fans and those who shop only online or from the convenient Argos catalogue. (A sidenote for those of you new to London, make sure you get introduced to the concept of Argos. Now. For Christmas, for your small appliances, for anything you may need in a hurry when settling into your new home.) My favourite destinations for Christmas decorations and houseware gifts include the magical oasis of Petersham Nurseries (my mother-in-law has renamed the shop and café “heaven”), the V&A shop (and really most of the museum shops), Summerhill and Bishop in Notting Hill, Liberty especially for gorgeous Christmas crackers, Fortnum and Mason, the Conran Shop, and Heals. My daughters could spend hours perusing the paper goodies at Paperchase (also fun for tree decorations), as well as picking up homemade crafts and goodies at school Christmas fairs and local markets. Timeout publishes a handy guide to all the best Christmas markets in town.

 

Covent Garden in Xmas decor
Covent Garden in Christmas decor

For those of you traveling “home” this Christmas, don’t forget to bring back a taste of London.
Everyday biscuits and sweets are a novel treat for the little ones at home, while foodie and tea gifts from Fortnum and Mason, Selfridges, and Harrods will make jaws drop.
And if you’re short on time, Heathrow is your friend– Harrods, John Lewis, Carluccio’s, M&S and of course Duty Free for those truly last minute food gifts. (I’m heading to Berlin this week and will be checking out the very glam looking holiday gift wrapping services at LHR in partnership with top illustrators including Clym Evernden and Fifi Lapin – will report back!)

In my family, we have a mix of German, American and Canadian backgrounds. We combine favourite Christmas customs to create our own family traditions.
Now that we are in the UK, we have added a few local customs to our mix. Christmas crackers are a new addition to our dinner table (along with the paper crowns in family photos!), and our Christmas morning walk along the Thames with a cheeky drink (or two) has become a family favourite. Hmmmm……how will you spend your Christmas this year?

 

To learn more about how SecurelyBe can help your employees, clients, and their families hit the ground running this holiday season, please do get in touch.

By Nadia Read

Last week’s ACS Relocation Networking Event brought me right back to the challenges of moving my own family to London from Washington DC 3 years ago.  And then quickly to all the ways in which SecurelyBe helped our family when we were clients, and how I ended up as a SecurelyBe Associate. Full circle.

ACS International Schools logo

After a lovely networking event and an unexpected all school fire alarm (!), we listened to a panel of 3 parents from the ACS community who had recently relocated their families to London.  Their accounts were part entertaining (you can always laugh in hindsight, right?) and part distressing. We learned about what they wish they had known prior to and after their move. There’s that hindsight again. We commiserated as they shared almost humorous accounts of sat nav failures and struggles with foreign appliances. These are the crucial details that determine how smoothly –  or not – those first days and weeks go.

The panel represented 3 nationalities in very different situations, from a seasoned expat family to one moving with unwilling teenagers.  Yet they all experienced similar challenges regardless of the level or type of support they received through their corporate relocation.

What were their biggest challenges?

  • internet, banking, mobile phone and help with utilities/appliance
  • craving real advice, the tips about day to day living commuting and simply  existing that would save time and effort
  • a need for service providers to really understand their clients, how their families work and their specific needs

Sounds basic right?

It all comes down to this:  “you just don’t know what you don’t know”

 

There might be a way to avoid being trapped in the spinning hamster wheel of waiting for internet and utilities without a bank account, but not being able to open a bank account without a signed lease agreement etc. There is no need to wonder what to do or who to call first when your child has an ear infection on the first day.

As another friendly relocation professional nudged me as we listened, he whispered: “This is exactly what SecurelyBe does.”

And yes, in fact, it is.

From the day that a family knows it will be moving, through the physical move and during the ongoing settling in, we are here to provide tailored support so that families can hit the ground running.

Our clients and families don’t see themselves saying: “I wish I had known”, “if only someone had told me”, or “we could have saved ourselves so much time and hassle”.

During 5 months of tailored one to one support, advice and information, our clients feel like locals in no time. Our families learn how to survive and thrive in their new destination with big smiles on their faces. Like me, all of our associates are expats themselves – we make it our job to know what you don’t know….yet!

I drove away from the beautiful ACS Egham campus again thinking about my own moving tales that I can laugh about now. I also felt the excited anticipation about helping that next family through their own unique and challenging process.

Thank you ACS for your continuous efforts in supporting your families during their international relocations.  It was abundantly clear how quickly our panel members felt welcome and truly part of the ACS community.

To learn more about how SecurelyBe can help your employees, clients, and their families hit the ground running, please feel free to contact us.