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What’s on: welcome to your December-diary must dos!

Yep, it’s officially the season to eat, drink and be merry – but what else should you be cramming into your social calendar right now? Here are 20 of the best events in Essex to book now!

The Christmas ballet

Nutcracker ballet

It wouldn’t be Christmas without a trip to the ballet, would it? But fear not: you don’t have to venture further than Colchester’s Firstsite this year for your festive culture fix. Cue The Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker, streaming Clara’s Christmas adventure live from London on Thursday 9 December at 6:45pm. Tickets from £13.

The special Santa train ride

Santa train ride Ongar

Hop on the Epping Ongar Railway this Yuetide season for a special train ride with Santa! Little ones will love this magical locomotive adventure on a traditional train that will chug you through scenic Essex countryside after departing from Ongar station – and also includes a gift from the big man himself. Bookings available until 24 December; tickets from £105 for a family of four. 

The winter wonderland

That’s right, you don’t need to head into the capital to hear the sleigh bells ring anymore – just hit Garon Park in Southend from 10-24 December instead! Offering up trad Christmas markets, traditional fun fair rides and a buzzing outdoor ice rink little ones will love, Essex Christmas Wonderland is a festive spectacular that delivers your one-stop-shop for all Noel activities this year. Think mulled-wine tastings, a quality selection of Christmas-themed goodies to pick up from the artisanal market, plus lashings of festive cheer. See you there!

The festive farmers’ market

An annual favourite with families and artists alike, the Hylands Estate Christmas Farmers’ and Craft Market is one to hit for all your seasonal essentials this year. Taking place in Chelmsford on  19 December, shop for fresh artisan foods from local outlets, snap up unique handmade gifts lovingly made by talented independent makers and artists, and even try your hand at traditional wooden crafts yourself to reshape your festive decor this year. It’s worth hitting for the plethora of fresh produce available and nostalgia of Christmases past alone. 

The cosy pub-lunch ramble

If things start to get a little hectic and you’re feeling the effects of the Christmas frazzle, set aside a Sunday afternoon for a wintry walk and trad pub lunch. Our go-to is the scenic village of Dedham – and its picture-postcard The Sun Inn – a charming dwelling in the heart of the village that’s perfectly placed for a crisp winter day’s walk by the river and just happens to have a cracking fire pit to cosy up to, complete with squishy sofas for a post-roast sinkage. Set up camp under the character-filled oak beams, order a glass of something local and peruse the regional menu, which is always season-led and a favourite with foodies. 

The annual panto

Cinderella’s all-star cast is hitting the Cliffs from 13 December to 2 January and this rags-to-riches favourite is sure to be a sellout. Staring king of panto-comedy Brian Conley as Cinderella’s best mate Buttons, expect a dashing Prince Charming, two (very) ugly sisters and one magical fairy godmother to get the party – sorry, ball – well and truly started. Audience participation, essential. Tickets from £14.

The Christmas grotto 

Little ones love an immersive festive journey, so hit A Magical Christmas Experience at Marsh Farm, Chelmsford, this month. Taking place until 24 Dec, you can look forward to passing through elf passport control, joining elf academy, visiting Mother Christmas’ kitchen, hitting Father Christmas’ grotto, plus enjoying a teddy bear market. Far from your standard greet-and-go grotto, this is two and a half hours of pure seasonal fun that the whole family can get on board with (especially after a mulled wine or two!). 

The festive afternoon tea

Wivenhoe House Christmas Afternoon Tea

Boasting a brand new tearoom that’s been stylishly furnished for contemporary diners, Tea at The George’s festive afternoon tea menus are also ideal for Christmas shoppers/pre-Christmas gal pals coveting a gluten-free/veggie/vegan offering. Packed with clementine, cinnamon and gingerbread flavours, plus fun updates on dessert dishes (step forward The Bauble, The Snowman, The Pudding and The Christmas Candle) this thoroughly modern Yuletide treat is also seriously Insta-worthy. Prices from £30 per person.

The wreath-making workshop

Christmas wreath-making Stock

Hosting a number of creative workshops at Barleylands Craft Village in Billericay throughout December, Little Tin Shed Flowers promises to deliver all the materials and expertise you’ll need to produce a truly luxury Christmas wreath. Whether you’re into contemporary designs or the traditional red bows and berries look, pro florists will be on hand to help you curate your festive foliage hero piece. The £65 entry fee includes all materials, tools and parking, and sessions last for two hours. 

The magical light trail

Get your glow on at Hyde Hall in Chelmsford this month courtesy of the RHS garden’s Glow light trail. Illuminating the Hall’s grand labyrinth of walkways, estate paths, expansive woodlands and immaculately landscaped lawns and potted beds, this is the ideal time to take in the venue’s impressive seasonal sculptures and marvel at the gardening team’s green fingers. Glow is on until 1 Jan. 

PLUS, WHAT’S ON FURTHER AFIELD…

CHRISTMAS FAYRE: Bishop Stortford Christmas Fayre, North Street, Market Square, Potter Street, and South Street, 4 Dec

This year’s fair is slightly reduced in size yet will still have 100 stalls selling Christmassy wares alongside the usual Farmer’s market and Craft Market vendors. There’ll be everything from food to fashion and even gifts for furry friends as well as plenty of hot food stalls to keep up your spirits in the winter chill. There’ll be live entertainment on the Community and Busking stages, and Santa might just be making an appearance, too. From 9.30am-4.30pm

KIDS: Percy the Park Keeper’s Winter Wander, Ashridge Estate, from 4 Dec – 3 Jan

Nick Butterworth’s beloved character, Percy the Park Keeper is popping up at Ashridge this month, with a new trail for kids. They’re invited to help Percy complete his winter tasks with all sorts of activities, games and clues to follow.

THEATRE: Rapunzel, South Mill Arts, Bishop’s Stortford, 4 Dec – 2 Jan 

Love a good fairytale at Christmas? Get the family over to South Mill Arts for this lively re-telling, with a feisty heroine, talking horse and a wicked witch, with plenty of adventure, dance and song to get those toes tapping. 

FOOD: Eat Feast, Riverside, Bedford, 5 Dec

Food trucks and stalls will be flocking to Merchant Square for a day of deliciousness, hawking all sorts of dishes with international flavours and festive tipples, from 12-9pm. 

WORKSHOP: Festive garlands with artist, Anna Ray, St Albans Museum + Gallery, 5 Dec

Join textile artist Anna Ray as she talks you through creating a beautful colourful festive garlandinspired by a vintage French decoration, made out of rope and scraps of cloth. The groups work will be photographed together as a final piece of art and you can take your decoration home with you at the end. You’ll also be invited to join Anna at her exhibition to ask her questions about her work. £25 per person. 

MARKET: Christmas Farmers’ and Craft Market, Southern Maltings, Ware, 5 Dec

This arts venue in Ware will play host to a lovely artisan market as part of its ongoing schedule of markets through the year. There’ll of course be plenty of festive goodies to nab and a glass of mulled wine to keep you going! 10am-3pm. 

THEATRE: A Christmas Carol, South Mill Arts, Bishop’s Stortford, 7 Dec

There’s nothing like a bit of Dickens to warm the cockles (or send chills down your spine for that matter!) at Christmas. Actor John O’ Connor takes on the man himself to tell the infamous ghost story – something that the author did himself with his stories, A Christmas Carol being his first public reading. 

MARKET: Made in Bedford Christmas Makers Market, Harpur Square, 11-12 Dec

This two-day fair is put on by artisan shop and café, Made in Bedford, showcasing work by the county’s best artists, craftspeople and makers. Find unique cards, gifts, decorations and confectionery, plus there’ll be free face painting, balloon artistry and music from a live rock choir to boot! 10am – 4pm. 

MARKETS: Christmas Market Weekends at Rushmere Country Park, 4-5, 11-12 and 18-19 Dec

Visit Rushmere Country Park during the three weekends running up to Christmas for craft stalls, locally sourced and Fairtrade festive food and drink, plus… Christmas trees! There’ll also be seasonal music and a festive fairy trail to keep the littlies occupied. AND Santa will be popping in on 19th! 10am – 4pm

FAMILY: Christmas photoshoot, The Ashridge Estate, 11 Dec

Fancy a festive family snap for the Chrissy cards? Book your place and head to the Ashridge Visitor Centre where there’ll be two festive sets designed for little ones to look extra cute and angelic in. Better dig those Christmas jumpers out of the attic then! And saaaaayyy cheeeeeese! £59 for 20-30 minutes including three digital images.


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