For many Londoners, Christmas was a time to gather with family and friends and reflect on the past year. It was also a time for hope, as they looked forward to the future. Thanks to the hard work of London’s residents and the British stiff upper lip, Christmas in Post-War London was always a special time.
The city is alive with shoppers, tourists, and Christmas cheer. This season is especially magical for Londoners who have endured years of war and deprivation. Streets are decorated with colourful lights, stores are packed with festive treats, and local pubs offer seasonal drinks.
Some people were already grumbling about the commercialisation of Christmas, but most seemed to enjoy it. There were many Christmas trees around the city, including one at Covent Garden.
In the days leading up to Christmas, a commuter lost several boxes of presents, bottles of whiskey, and a plastic skeleton on the tube. The Christmas shopper’s loss consisted of “Christmas puddings and turkeys, bottles of whiskey, boxes of chocolates and presents,” as well as an earring and a pair of braces.
For decades, London has displayed its Christmas lights and decorations throughout the busy commercial world-famous shopping streets. The display of this tradition is now considered an integral part in preparing for what’s expected to be another successful Christmas holiday season by many!
The tradition began as a way to cheer up post-war London. In 1954, local retailers and businesses in London arranged and paid for an illuminated light display across Regent Street in response to an article commenting on how drab London looked at Christmas.
Oxford Street first had a Christmas display in 1959. The Illuminations stretched across Oxford Street and had huge illuminated baubles.
Adding a touch of celebrity sparkle to the lights with a switching-on ceremony created a lot of buzz and PR chatter but this didn’t become a thing until the 1980s. Big names to push the button in the past have included Kylie Minogue (Regent Street 1989 and Oxford Street 2015), Cliff Richard in (Oxford Street 1990), the Spice Girls (Oxford Street 1996), and Ronan Keating (1999). I’m sure, to many, the chance of seeing a celebrity was more of a draw to weather the West-End crowds compared to seeing Mr Stafford Bourne, chairman of Bourne and Hollingsworth who was President of the Oxford Street Association for that is who turned on the Oxford street illuminations in 1961.
London Transport’s Christmas “light-seeing” bus service – route 7L – started in November and was altered to also take in the Regent Street lights and the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree. The open-top service ran from Marble Arch, along Oxford Street and Regent Street and then into Trafalgar Square via Piccadilly Circus and Haymarket. The service was run by London Transport in conjunction with Debenhams on Oxford Street.