At Christmas, words and concepts become elastic. ‘Family’ means literally anyone who happens to show up for dinner, even if they’re your fuckboy cousin’s girlfriend of all of three weeks. ‘Togetherness’ just means getting drunk at the same time. And ‘breakfast’ means any foul and depraved combination of leftovers you choose to eat before noon (eg three Quality Street and a bowl of soggy trifle). So perhaps it’s unsurprising that London’s hotels, attractions and public spaces have taken this festive linguistic vagueness to heart by stretching the concept of a Christmas tree to its very limits.
Pretty much the only rule of London Christmas trees is that they should be approximately conical. Beyond that, anything goes! Some make political points, some are displays of artistic ego, some tug at the heartstrings with charitable messages. Perhaps it’s against the spirit of the season of goodwill to critique these displays of festive artistry. But we’re going to do it anyway. Here are 2022’s most outlandish so-called ‘trees’, ranked from best to very worst.
1. St Pancras Station
Grey is arguably the least Christmassy colour: the only festive things that are grey are bread sauce and your face after you find out how much last-minute train tickets home are. So that makes it all the more impressive that St Pancras Station’s tree is so gorgeously festive. This storybook-style installation is a pretty assemblage of cardboard buildings, including London landmarks (London Eye, Big Ben, and the Gherkin), department stores, cultural venues and ordinary houses. It’s almost enough to make you want to rip up your ticket out of the city and fall in love with it, all over again.
Liberty is loved by crafters everywhere for its exceptional haberdashery department. So this year, it’s made a gigantic, stylised tree out of padded fabric, complete with visible hand stitching, and suspended it from its central atrium. The result is cosy, nostalgic, and strokeable, while its mammoth scale will make you (and hence all your Christmas shopping-related dilemmas) feel reassuringly small.
And the award for the least Christmassy Christmas tree goes to… this kitschy offering, designed by Sandra Choi for Jimmy Choo. It looks a little bit like a dalek mated with a greenhouse and gave birth to an adorable baby girl. But you can go inside it and marvel at all the pretty, diamond-like neon lights, which is either a golden selfie opportunity or a pleasant distraction from your aching mid-week hangover (depending on your particular approach to the festive season).
4. Leadenhall Christmas Market
If you haven’t soaked up the gilded splendour of Leadenhall Market yet, then Christmas is the perfect time to do it, because it’s got one of the biggest, sparkliest trees around. Yes, some designers would look at the sombre hues of this Victorian arcade and opt for something more subtle. But this epic display of colour-changing LED lights is bad taste in the best possible way, conjuring up glorious memories of those fibre optic light-up wands that they used to sell at the panto. Magic.
5. Television Centre
This tree is rather more conventional than the rest of the entrants on this list, with one exception: the mysterious hand that sits on top, in place of the more trad star or fairy. It’s the creation of jeweller Rosh Mahtani, who was inspired by Italian poet Dante to create a talisman of protection, in aid of charity Refuge. Which is all very well and good, but why not take the Dante inspiration further, with a Christmassy reimaging of Dante’s nine circles of hell, in which the carnage of Christmas in Leicester Square sits at the infernal centre? What a missed opportunity.
6. Granary Square
Remember how we said up top that you can call pretty much anything a Christmas tree these days, as long as it’s roughly conical? Well, this offering from Berlin experimental art and architecture practice raumlabor is taking the piss. Not only is it equally wide at its base and summit, it also requires you to actually think to appreciate it. Apparently the glowing red orb at its ‘real-time manifestation of time spent together’? Sorry, I had Bailey’s in my 11am hot chocolate, you can’t possibly expect me to understand this one.
7. London Edition
This luxury hotel typically goes a bit wacky with its festive offerings but this year’s is next level. Its creator, artist Daniel Lismore, has been inspired by the evils of fabric waste created a kind of vertical jumble sale, with an avalanche of secondhand clothes topped with an ‘angel’ that’s wearing a halo a bit like those cone-shaped collars you put sick dogs in (because, of course, we should all be as sick as dogs at the horrors of consumerism!) If I was making a 21st century retelling of ‘A Christmas Carol’ where Scrooge was a miserly garment factory owner (and believe me, that’s exactly the kind of thing that goes on in this city’s subsidised theatres) then I’d cast it as the Ghost of the Christmas Future in a heartbeat. But I’m simply not emotionally resilient enough to live in a world where something this terrifying can be considered a Christmas tree, so with regret, it must take this list’s ignominious bottom spot.