Celebrating London

The often vibrant parades, festivals and parties that take place all through the year.

Canalway Cavalcade, Little Venice

You can always see a few boats in Little Venice but during the Canalway Cavalcade, the whole of the basin is full of them. They lie there side by side, nose to the quay, bunting fluttering overhead, dozens and dozens of them. Their owners are here to show them off and so they’re usually on board, posing at the tiller or sitting in deck chairs on the roof. There are bands, Morris Dancers, a Punch and Judy Show, other children’s activities, a bar, food stalls, people selling clothing, jewellery, handbags, ceramics, toys, art and crafts.


Notting Hill Carnival

The Notting Hill Carnival is a huge and somewhat daunting event. More than a million people looking for a party. A massive crush everywhere. No signal on your mobile phone. Twenty miles of roads in all. Forty sound-systems booming away. No toilets visible. But there are lots of amazing floats and costumes that people have spent all year designing and making. The music is brilliant and nothing at any other London event is like the Notting Hill buzz.


The Lord Mayor’s Show, the City

The Lord Mayor’s Show goes back a long way. King John made the newly elected Lord Mayor come out of the safety of the City and down to Westminster, where he had to swear loyalty to the Crown. His successors have been making the journey every year since. It’s become a major event now, of course. Here are some facts about the 2013 Show. More than 7,000 participants. 21 bands. 150 horses. 23 carriages, carts and coaches. Hundreds of other vehicles. Vintage cars. Steam buses. Tanks. Tractors. Ambulances. Fire engines. Unicycles. Steam rollers. Giant robots. Helicopters. Ships. Penny farthings. Beds. Bathtubs.


The Big Easter Egg Hunt, Covent Garden

In February 2012, beautiful 2½ foot high eggs started appearing round central London, each designed by a different person. This was the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt. Each egg contained its own code word. When you texted it to a given number, you entered yourself in the competition to win the Diamond Jubilee Egg which was on display at Fabergé’s shop. Most of the charges for the texts were collected as donations to charity. Then, for Easter week, all the eggs were brought together in Covent Garden and you could see them all just by strolling round the piazzas.

Harvest Festival, Pearly Kings and Queens, Covent Garden

St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden was built by Inigo Jones in 1633. St. Paul’s has been associated with the theatre community for a long time and it’s known as “the Actors’ Church”. On the second Sunday morning in October, there’s always a remarkable sight. A large group of Pearly Kings and Queens come together from all over London for the Harvest Festival service in the church. They too have a long and close association with Covent Garden. The reason is that the Pearly tradition started among the costermongers –  the original barrow-boys – of London’s fruit and vegetable markets.


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Deptford Jack in the Green procession, May Day

This is a May Day procession led by a ten foot tall cage covered with flowers and branches. Inside it, there’s a man. He’s the Jack in the Green. The procession goes from pub to pub in Deptford and Greenwich. The origins of the event lie in the 17th century. Milkmaids went out on May Day with the things that they used in their job, like pots, cups and spoons, piled up on their heads and decorated with garlands. The Fowlers Troop and the Jack in the Green tradition were revived in the 1980s by the Blackheath Morris Men.


Pancake races, Shrove Tuesday, Tower Hill

The story goes that in 1445, a woman was busy cooking pancakes in her kitchen on Shrove Tuesday. She thought she had plenty of time left before she had to go to church for confession – essential before Lent started next day. But she’d got the time wrong. The pancakes were nowhere near finished when the bells started to ring, so she ran out of the house in her apron, still carrying the pan with the pancakes in it, and raced all the way to the church.

Trooping the Colour, The Mall

This event dates back to the early 18th century, when the colours, or flags, of the battalions were carried, or ‘trooped’, down the ranks so that the soldiers would know them later in the heat of battle. In 1748, King George III he came up with the idea of making the parade part of his birthday party and that’s been the tradition ever since.

Paralympic Torch Relay, St. John’s Wood

On the day when the Paralympic Torch Relay finally ended up at the Olympic Park, it stopped at the zebra crossing in Abbey Road made famous by the Beatles. Here, members of the team carrying the torches waited until a small army of press photographers and television cameramen were in place and then re-enacted the iconic scene on the Abbey Road album cover. This team comprised people who’d trained and qualified as gym fitness instructors, overcoming disabilities like spinal cord injury, blindness and impaired mental health.

2012 Olympic Victory Parade, St. Paul’s

After the runaway success of the 2012 Games, the victory parade through central London became one massive celebration. The streets all the way from the Guildhall to Buckingham Palace were so full that, in many places, there was no way to get along the pavements behind the crowds. There were almost as many flags as people, along with whistles, giant hands with pointy fingers and vuvuzelas.

Floating Flower Festival, Thai Buddhist Temple, Wimbledon

The name of this festival in Thai is Loy Kratong. Loy means to float and kratong means lantern or little vessel in the shape of a lotus flower. This festival, celebrated all over Thailand at full moon in the twelfth lunar month, is when people float candle-lit lanterns in rivers and on canals, lakes and ponds. This is to thank the Goddess of Water for letting us use water in our daily lives and to say sorry for polluting it.

Santacon, Leicester Square

There’s no better way of paying homage to Santa Claus than taking part in the annual Santacon dressed up as the iconic Christmas character. You certainly won't be the only one in costume. “You’ve got to wear a Santa suit,” budding Santas are told by the organisers. “Buy one. Make one. Customise one. Be creative. If you don’t have any creativity, slap yourself three times and ask your Mum to help you. A Santa hat is not enough.”

© Richard Slater