All your Christmases

London’s diplomatic community got into the festive spirit hosting a number of celebrations to share their Christmas traditions over the festive season.

Above image: The diplomatic community has its own ‘Black Friday’ tradition – the Slovak Crystal Show, where top quality Slovak crystal is available to purchase for a fraction of the High Street prices at the Slovak Embassy. This year guests could also view an exhibition of quirky and creative contemporary crystal by artists Patric Illo and Aleksandra Stencel

Before the famous Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree goes up (see later) the Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide paid the Foreign Office a special visit to deliver a Norwegian fir to decorate King Charles Street. There was Christmas carol singing and traditional Norwegian treats for FCO workers too.

Just before Advent Sunday, the spouses of ambassadors and high commissioners gathered at the Slovak Embassy to make their own festive advent wreaths and to learn about this special tradition from the Christian Embassy.

It’s claimed the first-ever public Christmas Tree was erected in the Riga Town Hall square in 1510 by a guild of merchants (the Brotherhood of the Blackheads) who first put up a tree festooned with flowers (and then promptly burnt it down in the merry party that followed!). In honour of this tradition (which continues to this day) the Latvian Embassy donates a Christmas Tree to Lancaster House, accompanied by with traditional Latvian carol singing. Obviously this tree is spared ritual immolation

Latin American diplomats gathered in St James’s Catholic Church for the 10th annual Christmas Carol charity concert hosted by the Anglo-Latin American Foundation (ALAF) in aid of disadvantaged children in Latin America. Thanks to the generosity of sponsors and the concert goers the event raised £70,000 over the years for good causes.

This year the Diplomatic Press Attaché Association of London celebrated the festive season with the Foreign Press Association at the Cyprus High Commission. It was a double celebration as the FPA was also toasting its 130th anniversary.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the diplomatic calendar – Her Majesty’s diplomatic reception at Buckingham Palace, a lavish white tie event where diplomats mingle with the Royal Family and other dignitaries with the Palace beautifully decorated for the festive season.

Polish Ambassador Arkady Rzegocki hosted colleagues for a traditional Polish Christmas celebration with bilingual carol singing. Each guest was given a ‘bombka’ or Christmas bauble crafted in Poland featuring folk patters.

On display at the Polish Christmas reception was a ‘szopka’ – a highly decorative miniature nativity scene traditional to Krakow, Ambassador Rzegocki’s home town, where on the beautiful town square there is a huge exhibition of szopki on 6 December every year.

For all Londoners, the real start of Christmas is the lighting of the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree. The Ambassador of Norway Mona Juul, the Mayor of Oslo Marianne Borgen and the Lord Mayor of Westminster Councillor Lindsay Hall flicked the switch, after which there was carol singing by the Salvation Army and the St Martin-in-the-Field choir. The iconic fir – ‘the Queen of the forest’ – is a gift by the people of Oslo in a tradition dating back to 1947 to thank the British for supporting them in the Second World War. It is thought that this year’s tree was planted during WWII.

The Diplomatic Spouse Club of London hosted a Christmas Party for diplomatic kids and Santa dropped by to hand out gifts! The YDL also hosted a festive trip to LEGOLAND where youngsters could meet Father Christmas, participate in the Elf Scavenger Hunt and visit Mrs Christmas’s toy shop…

The Swedish Ambassador Torbjörn Sohlström introduced a special Swedish tradition to the diplomatic community: the ‘Feast of St Lucia’ always held on 13 December. Young girls and boys in white gowns and a crown of candles sang carols in a darkened Ambassador’s Residence. Although the feast is a Christmas tradition, it has pagan roots as Lucia is an ancient mythical ‘bringer of light’ in the dark Swedish winters.

The Embassy Protocol Club hosted their annual Festive Quiz compiled by Embassy Editor Elizabeth Stewart. The multicultural quiz tested the wits of London’s private secretaries and protocol officers with questions spanning all festivals – and it was the Elves team who won for a second year running

Austrian Ambassador Michael Zimmerman celebrated the end of the Austrian Presidency of the EU with a very special Christmas Party. Because this year marks the 200th anniversary of the world’s most famous Christmas carol, Silent Night, the Ambassador hosted a special screening of the film Silent Night – A Song For the World, with remarks by the director Hannes Schalle. Composed by Austrian Franz Xavier Gruber, the carol has great poignancy, especially this year as we mark the centenary of the end of the Great War because it was sung by German and British soldiers in the trenches in a brief moment of truce on Christmas Day.