London Drum

Trafalgar Square Christmas tree lighting ceremony (Dec 2022)

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Where? Trafalgar Square When? 1st December 2022 Tickets? Free to watch See london.gov.uk Parking: Nearby car parks Buses: 3, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 23, 24, 29, 87, 88, 91, 139, 159, 176, 453 Bus fares Trains: The closest station is Charing Cross Bakerloo Northern Other nearby stations: Covent Garden, Embankment, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus Train fares

Craig’s review… There are still two hours to go until the big switching-on ceremony so I'm just standing here waiting, waiting, waiting in the rain. One of the singers has done a soundcheck on the stage and the marshals are busying themselves setting out all the seats for the invited guests, but that's about it. I hope they've checked all the fairy lights work. Imagine trying to find the dodgy bulb on the Trafalgar Square tree.

I've had to take cover in the National Gallery cafe for a while because the black clouds have cracked open and cleared the square in ten-seconds flat. Waves of water are blowing in sideways and rolling across the roads like the tide's come in. It's impossible to brave it and everyone takes shelter in the shops and under the busy bus stops.

Fifteen minutes later I venture out again and the square is starting to look very pretty with the National Gallery and St. Martin-in-the-Fields both bathed in yellow light. They could do with a few lamplights pointing towards Nelson's Column, though. He's standing up there all alone and soaking wet -- is this how we treat our heroes? Somebody fetch him a coat!

The Trafalgar Square Christmas treePhoto: Craig Cross
The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree

If I was in charge I would have wrapped a bit of tinsel around the column and hung some baubles from his hat. Filled the fountains with ice and snow. The Christmas tree is still totally dark as well. No spotlights on that either. The marshals are hovering around with their fluorescent yellow bibs, hoods done up tight to fight off the wind. It's real winter weather tonight.

It's 5 o'clock now (it's slowly getting closer) and the rush hour roads are full of wet headlights making starbursts down the Strand. I don't think I'm going to make it to 6 o'clock because my hands are turning blue. I'm glad I've got a crowd around me because they're acting like a wind-cheater.

The Trafalgar Square Christmas treePhoto: Craig Cross
The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree

Sod this... I am seriously considering jumping over the barrier and switching on the lights myself, just so we can all go home and have a cup of tea. I can see the big button on the table... there it is... it's only thirty feet away. I could easily make it if I ran. Shall I do it? I'm watching the marshal's patrol path so I can wait until he's out of range... I feel like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, waiting for the Gestapo guards to swing their searchlight away.

Am I brave enough to try? Nope, of course not. I have decided that I will just stand here until 6 o'clock, and if I die of pneumonia then so be it. I have accepted my fate. Either I witness the lights being switched on or I will die. And at this exact moment I don't even care which.

Christmas carols by the Salvation Army band

Salvation Army Band playing Christmas carolsPhoto: Craig Cross
Salvation Army Band playing Christmas carols

It's 5.30 PM now and the square is still 50% empty. I think the torrential rain has scared everybody away. Fifteen minutes later the Salvation Army Band finally arrive and start unpacking their trumpets and tubas to play some carols by the tree.

Let me give you some tips about the best place to stand. The entire area in front of the tree has been totally roped off, including the big steps leading up the National Gallery, so the closest you can get is at the top of the stairs. But don't stand there though, because the steps will soon be heaving with people from the congregation at St. Martin-in-the-Fields church.

The best place to stand is on one of the balcony areas either side of the stairs. Try and get right up against the edge so you're looking down onto the square, with an uninterrupted view of the stage.

Lights on the Trafalgar Square Christmas treePhoto: Craig Cross
Lights on the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree

Christmas tree switch-on ceremony

The show is over now (I couldn't really write anything whilst it was going on because I was crammed in tight). The ceremony only lasted for thirty minutes but here's what happened: the Salvation Army band played a few festive tunes and then the Lord Mayor of London said a few kind words before handing over to the Mayor of Oslo for his big speech.

He began with a little potted history of the tree and how we helped Norway during the war, and how grateful they were, and still are, and always will be, etc., and then he went off on a not-very-Christmassy political tangent about how Norway supplies a large part of the UK's gas supplies -- I think he was trying to drum up a bit of extra business. But I suppose he does give us a free tree every year so we can't begrudge him that.

Choir singing carols after the tree lighting ceremonyPhoto: Craig Cross
Choir singing carols after the tree lighting ceremony

And then he pressed the big button and woooh! aaah! All of the adults in the crowd suddenly become like kids again as their eyes widened in the lights. What a pretty tree. It has a wavy white line of lights running up and down the length of it and a whopping great star on top -- probably about the same size as the sun. Then we had the national anthems and the invited guests went home to dry their socks.

If you stuck around for a little while longer then you were treated to a seasonal sing-song with a Christmas carol choir and a conductor waving his hands about trying to urge them on (or maybe he was just trying to keep himself warm).

Unfortunately it was also bloody cold so I left them to it, whistling some Christmas carols all the way back to the train.

Worth a visit? Value for money? n/aGood for kids? Easy to get to?

I also recommend… If you enjoy Trafalgar Square then you might like to visit Covent Garden (you can walk it in 7 mins), Leicester Square (you can walk it in 4 mins) and Piccadilly Circus (you can walk it in 6 mins)

London Squire bookThe owns londondrum.com and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon

Your comments and questions

Anne Is there a list available of groups performing in Trafalgar Square in the days before Christmas?

Craig Hi Anne. Not that I know of (at least, not one that is given to the public). But they are usually just choirs from the local schools and churches. I've never seen a really famous choir there

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