1. Charles Dickens
He’s not called ‘the man who invented Christmas’ for nothing. Back in 1843, the holiday had become a fusty, lacklustre affair that only a dwindling section of the population even bothered celebrating. Then came Chuck D’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ – a literary sensation which repropelled the season (and its author) into public hearts and minds while creating the sentimental Yuletide ideal we still subscribe to today. And the story itself is as much part of our Christmas narrative as carols, crackers and quarrels over the remote. Humbug!
2. Prince Albert
Good old Prince Albert, we owe him so much. Queen Vic’s German squeeze inspired a lovely concert hall and an equally lovely genital piercing. But his most enduring legacy is the decorated tree –one of the traditions of his homeland. When an engraving of the royal family celebrating Christmas around a tree was published in the 1840s, people all over Britain were inspired to get their own. The German love-in lasted until the Great War, when events caused the royals to radically rethink the trumpeting of their Teutonic roots.
3. Del Boy
It just wouldn’t be Christmas without a great TV special, and ‘Only Fools and Horses’ remains the very greatest. For more than two decades, the ill-fated wheelings and dealings of Peckham ‘entre-pre-newer’Derek Trotter and his brother Rodney have been as inevitable a part of the seasonal schedule as an old Bond movie and The Two Ronnies. Altogether now: ‘Lovely jubbly!’
4. Raymond Briggs
For a self-proclaimed ‘miserable git’ and Christmas hater, it’s certainly a turn-up that Wimbledon-born author Raymond Briggs has produced two of our defining Christmas stories. His 1973 children’s graphic novel ‘Father Christmas’ made the portly bundle of cheer a cantankerous old widower who resents his annual duty. And then, of course, came ‘The Snowman’, the melting of whose titular character did the same to every heart in the country (with the exception of Briggs’s own, of course.)
5. Richard Curtis
Ahh, Christmas in London: crisp snow and good-looking well-fed people, all living in nice houses and always bumping into Hugh Grant… That’s the charming vision of the capital that filmmaker Curtis popularised in ‘Love Actually’ and ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ (his screenplay). All bollocks, of course, but you can’t begrudge him a little romance. Now get out of my fucking way, Hugh: it’s raining and I’ve got all my Christmas shopping to do.
6. William Hamley
If you’re not sure how you feel about Christmas, head to Hamleys on Regent Street, founded by William Hamley in 1760. You’ll either come out buoyed by the wide-eyed awe of all the wish-list-clutching nippers, or stagger out with grey hairs and a new-found anti-commercialisation soapbox. The world’s oldest toyshop feeds metaphorical Red Bull to our kids’ imaginations and turns gift anticipation up to 11. A rash move.
7. The Queen
There’s no more soothing an accompaniment to your midafternoon Christmas Day doze than Her Maj’s cut-glass tones. Continuing the tradition started by George V in 1932, Queen Elizabth II’s Christmas message is the televisual equivalent of a glass of port and a roaring fire: it’s the thick woollen stitching that binds our very nation together. Zzzzz.
8. One Pound Fish Man
‘Come and have a look, one pound fish/Very very good, one pound fish.’ This timeless couplet appeared in Muhammad Shahid Nazir’s 2012 assault on the Christmas charts, pitting the Upton Park market trader against the heavyweight likes of James Arthur and Carly Rae Jepsen. If he’d hit Number One with his catchy catchof- the-day anthem, it would have been a heartwarming Christmas legend; as it was, he reached Number 28. Still, for a few weeks, London had a David to pit against Simon Cowell’s seasonal Goliath. Figuratively speaking.
9. Henry Cole
Hmm, Christmas cards. Hollow money-sapping gestures or heartfelt tidings of love? Wherever you stand, Victorian inventor Henry Cole is the man to blame/thank for this unbreakable tradition. His first hugely successful batch was printed in 1843, and the cards quickly became a key part of the festive season. For Cole, who had helped to create a postal system for the country just a few years earlier, their success was a source of great cheer indeed. As it was for the nation’s third-rate artists.
10. Oliver Cromwell
The baddie on this list, as his puritanical parliament attempted to ban Christmas. The Lord Protector frowned upon all forms of pleasure and discouraged feasting on December 25. Mobs took to the streets against the new laws, which lasted until his death in 1658. Bad feeling remained, however, and other potential Scrooges should note that Cromwell’s corpse was dug up, beheaded and hanged in 1661. The party people won in the end. London just can’t get enough of Christmas!
Find more about Christmas in London.