Happy New Year from London. Yes, I have excluded a festive exclamation mark, and deliberately so. It is generally agreed that January is when London is at its least happy, and most miserable.
Here the first month of the year is about cutting back after Christmas spending, New Year’s resolutions, and the more recent British tradition of having an alcohol-free “Dry January”. This week my email inbox has been full of 2 for 1 offers for the restaurants, West End shows and other attractions that would have been bursting with people just a couple of weeks ago. The result is a quiet and depressing city, usually cold but these days rarely brightened by snow.
It’s not supposed to be like this. As everyone knows from the famous carol, there are twelve days of Christmas. In the UK, most people pretty much regard the whole of the week between Christmas and New Year as holiday season, even if they have to work. But by the first days of January, Christmas seems to be well and truly over in many people’s minds.
I still keep my decorations up until the 6th of January as old tradition dictates, but this week have seen many balding Christmas trees left out with the rubbish. When I was a child, my parents would go to Twelfth Night parties, but these seem not to happen any more.
There is a good case for extending the fun even further into the new year than its first six days. In a brilliant column for Time Out London a couple of years ago, Giles Coren said he thought we Londoners had got it all wrong. Why do we save all the festive spirit (in London, this essentially means alcohol) for the busy days of December and allow none for quiet, dim January?
“It’s just nuts,” he wrote. “We’re doing it all the wrong way round. What booze is for is for cheering you up when life is shit. It’s for getting you through the day when there is nothing to do and you feel like you don’t have any friends. Like in, for example, January. And the one time you do not need it is in the month running up to Christmas.”
Things are done differently, and I would say better, in New Orleans. Here 6th of January marks the beginning of Mardi Gras season, and of course its festivities. One of my favourites of this day’s events I’ve read about (having never been in the city in January) is the ride of the Phunny Phorty Phellows carnival krewe. The Phellows board, in costume, the St Charles streetcar and proceed, they say, to “sip champagne, eat king cake, dance, and let fly with the very first beads of the Mardi Gras season”.
A month and often longer of more king cake (see image), parties and parades follows, culminating in the glories of Mardi Gras day itself. Lent also follows, of course, but somehow giving up something festive when you can see and feel spring coming seems like a better idea than doing so during the very darkest days of the year.