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UCL’s wacky wonderland: A glimpse into UCL’s unusual festive traditions

By IOE Blog Editor, on 12 December 2023

A Christmas tree lit up with lights. The UCL Portico is lit up in green behind it.

Credit: IOE Marketing and Communications.

by Navyasara Jaiswal, Education Studies BA

As the sun dips below the historic structure of UCL, a hushed anticipation blankets the iconic Portico. It’s that magical time of year when the campus comes alive with twinkling lights, the aroma and warmth of mulled wine filling the air. Arguably, the festive season only starts for members of the UCL community with the switching on of the Portico Christmas lights. Even with UCL’s diverse background, it is fascinating to see the sea of faces illuminated by the lights, celebrating the festive season united together for the beginning of the celebrations.

12 grapes

Fires lick over a barbecue.

Credit: Navyasara Jaiswal.

For me, as someone with an Indian background, the festive season has never been the typical white Christmas that one usually sees in the media with a tree and presents. However, we still call family and friends over on Christmas Eve and have a barbecue together, the smell of charred food adorning the cold air. Another tradition that we have happens on New Year’s Eve, where my family and I all eat 12 grapes to signify the months gone and the months to come.

A Christmas spread with nuts and grapes and a few glasses.

Credit: Navyasara Jaiswal.

In this same vein, I wanted to discover the myriad of ways UCL celebrates the festive season. So join me on a journey through the halls, offices, and gatherings of UCL as we unveil the offbeat traditions that make the holiday season truly memorable for students, staff, and faculty alike.


Mugs and memories

Alice Xu, a student at UCL, finds joy in a simple yet heartfelt tradition, as she gathers with her family to decorate mugs. Transforming ordinary mugs into personalised works of art becomes a bonding experience that adds a personal touch to their holiday season. Each year their collection of mugs increases, each with an interesting story to tell.

When life gives you lemons

Two lemons decorated to look like animals.

Credit: Juniper Joseph via Navyasara Jaiswal

Juniper Joseph takes a unique approach to ushering in positive vibes during the festive season. Engaging in the intriguing practice of “lemon pigging,” she carves a pig out of a lemon. As the lemon pig wrinkles up, it is believed to absorb negative energy. Juniper shares that her mum introduced this tradition, a practice she picked up from the United States, making it a distinctive and culturally influenced part of their celebrations.

Last minute Christmas

Kate, my seminar leader, tells me of her tradition of last-minute tree decorating. Her childhood with her divorced parents led to a habit of adorning the tree only on Christmas day. And to this day, they decided to keep this tradition. Additionally, the village post office introduces an element of community spirit by assigning a theme to each family. Families, including Kate’s, then decorate their windows according to the given theme, creating a festive tapestry that reflects unity amid diverse celebrations.

The snowman

Emily shares a delightful and unique holiday tradition with her family. They’ve crafted their version of a Boxing Day character akin to Father Christmas, affectionately known as “the snowman.” Adding an extra layer of creativity, Emily’s grandfather and father handcraft wooden houses. These charming structures serve as the repositories for the presents each family member receives from “the snowman.” The festive ritual includes opening these personalised wooden houses after the family has enjoyed a hearty meal on Boxing Day, creating a special and anticipated moment that adds a touch of magic to their holiday celebrations.

Spellings and surprises

Sophie Ho and her family infuse their Christmas festivities with mischief and laughter. When it comes to exchanging presents, they engage in a playful tradition of intentionally misspelling everyone’s names on the labels, adding a lighthearted and humorous element to the gift-giving process.

To further spice up their holiday celebrations, they embrace the spirited game of Dirty Santa. The lucky individual who draws the number one spot gets the honour of selecting a gift from the mysterious pile. With the eyes of the family upon them, they unveil the contents for all to see. However, the plot thickens when the second participant, armed with the power to either pick a fresh gift or swipe the first person’s present, introduces an element of strategic decision-making and good-natured competition.


In the kaleidoscope of holiday traditions that embellish the tapestry of UCL, it becomes evident that amidst our varied celebrations, there exists a unifying thread that binds us together—the spirit of togetherness and shared joy. As we’ve explored the quirky and unconventional ways the UCL community marks the festive season, one cannot help but be struck by the underlying harmony that transcends our differences.

As the festive season gently gives way to the dawn of a new year, it symbolises not just the end of one chapter but the promise of a fresh beginning. The New Year, with its blank canvas, invites us all to start anew, to embrace the opportunities for growth, understanding, and compassion. Just as the diverse traditions of the festive season unite us, the prospect of a new year becomes a shared journey.

The festive season at UCL reminds us that, regardless of background, beliefs, or traditions, we are all united by the universal desire for warmth, connection, relaxation, and shared glimpses of happiness.

Happy holidays!

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