London Lantern

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A New Year's Day In London - Part 1 - The New Year's Day Parade

24/10/2002, By Candice Caster

Reader Rating: 2.9 from 13421 votes


The American novelist Henry James once described London as “magnificent, the complete compendium of the world.” Agreeing completely, my husband and I felt that any day spent in London is a fine day indeed, but New Year’s Day, our arrival date, seemed to promise a particular wealth of pleasures. The holiday season still in full swing, it would be a joy just to walk the streets and share the excitement of the crowds.

It was our intent to attend the London Parade along with the other anticipated 1.3 million people. Pictures on the Internet of this parade from previous years had fascinated us, the huge cartoon-character balloons hovering over the massive government buildings of Whitehall an anomalous sight. Imagine - Snoopy floating before the Tower of Big Ben!

We had looked forward to our trip for what seemed like forever. Intrigued by the idea of flying on New Year’s Eve, perhaps chasing an elusive midnight through different time zones, we planned our departure accordingly. We were not disappointed; several hours into our flight, the navigating information noting the time as 11:10 p.m. suddenly jumped, several minutes later, to 12:14.

Without twelve o’clock from which to generate a countdown, an announcement was made that we would be celebrating by the clock in Times Square in New York City. Forty-five minutes later, bottles of champagne were popped open and served to the passengers, and the New Year was ushered in.

Once at Gatwick, filled with the euphoria that only the first day of a two-week vacation can bring, we hurried to catch the Gatwick Express into London. Pleased with ourselves that we had, for once, managed to bring only two suitcases (there would be two additional ones on the return trip, however) and convinced that we were now seasoned travelers, we smugly boarded the train.

A number of bewildered tourists seemed to sense our confidence and followed our lead. Our self-satisfaction was short-lived, however, for the train came to a halt early in the journey for its first of many stops, and we all discovered that this was not the Gatwick Express. Amid grumbles and a few glares (undeserved, I might add), we quickly lost our world-traveler status, and arrived at Victoria Station later than expected.

We hastily took our bags to the flat we had leased and dashed off to the parade. Commencing at Parliament Square across from the Houses of Parliament, the parade begins when Big Ben strikes noon. Originally called “The Lord Mayor of Westminster’s Big Parade” at its inception in 1987, the parade was later expanded to include participation from all the London Boroughs and renamed the London Parade.

The Ritz

Made up of 10,000 performers from all over the world, the parade includes thousands of cheerleaders, approximately 40 marching bands, and dozens of clowns, jugglers and acrobats. The parade makes its way down Whitehall and around Trafalgar Square, where the Norwegian Christmas tree stands, a gift from Norway sent every year since the end of World War II as a gesture of appreciation for Britain’s military assistance.

The route moves up Regent Street and along Piccadilly where it finally ends at Berkeley Square. As it was now early afternoon, we rode the tube to Green Park Tube Station, as we had decided to head for the end of the route. We stood in front of the Ritz, the tall windows above revealing families inside - guests of this world-class hotel - with a bird’s eye view of the festivities.

Berkeley Square

It was a bright, sunny day, though a bit crisp, and we were delighted with all the sights of the parade, this year dedicated to America. We walked over to Berkeley Square to see where the legendary nightingale had sung, and we felt happy to be in London.

The crowd seemed to be made up almost entirely of Britons, many waving flags, small Union Jacks, and not many obvious tourists. But later in the week, while waiting at the gift-wrapping counter in Harrods’s, I mentioned the parade to a personable young woman, a Londoner with a child, who had inquired about our visit, and she had never heard of it!

Candice Caster


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Re: A New Year's Day In London - Part 1 - The New Year's Day Parade

By Don Deixel 01/11/2002, (Rating: 2.9 from 12645 votes)

Our January 1, 1996 in London was unforgettable! Probably the coldest day my wife Gloria and I have ever experienced. There were fewer parade viewers than expected because of the freeze, so there was more space at our chosen spot, also opposite the Ritz, but less crowd warmth and less resistance to the biting wind.

We were amazed at the high spirits of the marchers as they reached the end of a trek that must have been more an ordeal than a pleasure, especially the youngsters from the USA and Canada who were woefully underdressed for the weather conditions, the cheerleader groups particularly in their abbreviated costumes and the bandsmen who couldn't wear gloves to play. They told us later that they had a vote on whether to march and concern for whether their instruments would function at such low temperatures.

It was frosty but fun, and we particularly liked the groups of decorated dogs from some suburban animal hospital. But even the thermal socks we had bought at the street market the day before didn't help!

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Re: A New Year's Day In London - Part 1 - The New Year's Day Parade

By Sallie VanDyke 06/11/2002, (Rating: 2.9 from 12492 votes)

Wonderful article. I have visited London (never on New Year's Day) and loved it. Reading the description of the parade route brought back memories. Thank you.

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