We round up all the best events and activities to take part in this month, from Christmas celebrations to literary discussions... and much more
If you're looking for lots of amazing free things to do in December, then you've come to the right place.
There are lots of fun activities to do throughout the month, from Christmas markets and carol concerts to festive lights and fairytales. And if you fancy taking a break from seasonal hijinks, there are guided tours, discussions and dance shows to choose from.
All of these events were still scheduled to take place at the time of writing, but you're advised to check in advance to avoid disappointment.
1. Grab some handmade gifts
Durham Christmas Festival, until 6 December
One of the UK's best-loved Christmas events is moving online this year, which sadly means that the traditional family entertainment and children's lantern parade won't be happening. However, with 50 independent traders selling their artisan wares in a virtual space – everything from locally sourced food and drink to handcrafted clothes and jewellery – you're sure to find plenty of gorgeous gifts.
Don't forget, you can also find loads of great Christmas present ideas in the Boundless Christmas gift guide... and you'll get a discount too!
2. Pick up a masterpiece
Macmillan Cancer Support Art Auction, until 13 December
Christmas is a great time to support charities, and you have the opportunity to do just that at Macmillan Cancer Support's annual Art Auction. Though this is the fifth running of the event, it's the first to take place online. You'll get the chance to bid for a wide range of stunning artworks by some of Scotland's most talented artists – and all from the comfort of your armchair. You never know, you might just nab a bargain.
3. Browse some festive stalls
Cardiff Christmas Market, until 23 December
Many of the UK's big Christmas markets – including Bath, York and Belfast – are taking place virtually this year. But it's still possible to experience the real thing, if you so wish. Cardiff's Christmas market is still scheduled to go ahead, bringing an eclectic mix of exhibitors to the Welsh capital – but do remember to practise social distancing, and only travel if the latest government guidelines allow it.
4. Boldly go on a musical journey
Space... But Not As We Know It, until 16 February 2021
If you're expecting to see astronauts and flying saucers at this daily online show, then you're in for a surprise. Based around a one-hour family concert by the London Symphony Orchestra, Space... But Not As We Know It sees presenter Rachel Leach exploring how music travels around an ensemble and what you can hear between the notes. Stimulation for the ears and the brain.
5. Put some sparkle into your life
Winter Light, until 28 February 2021
It may have been a gloomy year, but you can illuminate your spirits with a visit to London Southbank Centre's stunning Winter Light exhibition. Taking inspiration from light, colour and the poetics of space, this outdoor installation sees more than 15 artworks and new commissions emblazoned across the Centre's buildings and along the Thames. Complemented by the musings of author Jini Reddy, it's a dazzling experience.
6. Take part in some festive fun and games
The 12 Challenges of Christmas, 1 December
Playing games is a big part of what makes Christmas so special, and you're sure to have a whale of a time at this online event. Hosted on Zoom by the Four Shores Events Agency, it's open to individuals or teams of up to four people (from the same location), who will be presented with a range of fun yet competitive tasks. Though it's free to enter, contestants will have to supply items for the challenges, and are also encouraged to donate to the Samaritans via a JustGiving page.
7. Mingle with MPs
Guided Online Tours of the Palace of Westminster, 1, 2, 3, 5, 9, 10, 15, 16 & 19 December
There’s nothing like a guided tour to give you a feel for a place, and although you may not be able to do one in person at the moment, that doesn’t mean you have to miss out. All through December, a presenter will take you on a guided 360-degree virtual tour of the Palace of Westminster, including the Commons Chamber, the Lords Chamber and Westminster Hall, scene of the trials of Guy Fawkes and King Charles I.
8. Get some laughter therapy
ComedySportz Virtual Show, 2 & 5 December
We could all do with a few laughs at the moment, and they come thick and fast in ComedySportz' brilliant Virtual Shows. Each session, two teams of comedians lock horns in a battle of quick-witted improvisation that sees them dreaming up songs, gags and games – all inspired by the suggestions of people watching at home. Breathless and bonkers in equal measures
9. Enjoy a literary discussion
(Not) the Give a Book Christmas Party, 3 December
The Give a Book charity is another organisation that's decided to move its annual festivities online this year. This special event will see the charity's patron and renowned history author Lady Antonia Fraser discussing new anthology The Pleasure of Reading with The Oldie editor Harry Mount. The book is being sold in aid of Give a Book – and you can also make an optional donation to the charity when watching this stream.
Fancy joining the Boundless Reading Room? You'll find all the information you need on its Facebook page.
10. Celebrate a very special birthday
KIDS Virtual Christmas Carol Service, 3 December
St Paul’s Church in Knightsbridge is inviting guests from all over the country to virtually join it for a special carol service. Streamed live from the church to mark children’s charity KIDS’ 50th birthday celebrations, the event will feature celebrity readers Bill Nighy and Robert Powell, as well as choir performances and popular sing-a-long carols. 'Admission' is free, but donations are welcome.
11. Open your mind to new cultures
This special online event celebrates the cultural diversity of the Arctic region, and is presented by Border Crossings' Origins Festival in partnership with the British Museum. Listen to stories from indigenous Arctic artists and poets, enjoy the ritualised trance-like sound of an indigenous Sami band, watch powerful Greenlandic mask dancing and discover the hidden stories of the polar regions through film and photographs.
12. Tune in to a festive fairytale
Snow Queen, 3-31 December
Mike Kenny's enchanting interpretation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale The Snow Queen has been condensed into a ten-minute recorded reading, which can be enjoyed by families this Christmas. Performed by Hannah Victoria, who appeared in the original tutti frutti stage production, this tale of bravery and friendship can be streamed at your leisure via the Vimeo platform.
13. Sing your heart out for charity
Carols in the City at Home, 7 December
What could be more Christmassy than belting out a few festive favourites with the family? In-person carol concerts will be few and far between this year, but the Marie Curie charity is bringing its annual event online, enabling you to enjoy the festivities at home. Featuring performances by the chamber choir Canticum and saxophonist Rob Burton, the concert will be free to stream, though donations are encouraged as the charity is hoping to raise money for its Marie Curie nurses.
14. Treat someone to a unique present
The 12 Virtual Night Markets of Christmas, 7, 14 & 21 December
These online bazaars have been taking place every Monday night on SoLo Craft Fair's Instagram Stories, bringing together some of the best makers from across the UK in one virtual space. With Christmas fast approaching, now could be a good time to browse the handcrafted wares on display – you never know, you might be able to get all of your present shopping done without leaving your sofa. From 7pm-9pm.
15. Listen in on a social debate
The coronavirus has affected us all to some degree, but what impact has the disease – and the response to it – had on homeless people? In this online discussion hosted by the London Assembly, a panel of experts will debate whether more could've been done to help those without homes during the pandemic, and the measures that need to be put in place to protect vulnerable people over the festive period.
16. Take in a seasonal show
Short & Sweet at Christmas, 10 December
Surprisingly, a number of Christmas shows and pantos are still going ahead this year in one form or another, though most of them require payment. If you want to enjoy some free festive theatre, try Short & Sweet at Christmas, an annual showcase of short plays written and performed by London's Southside Players. Not all of the plays in this YouTube-streamed event will be Christmas-themed, but it promises to be an entertaining evening nonetheless.
17. Embark on the adventure of a lifetime
Butterflies, 12 December
Credit: Tangled Feet/Half Moon Young People's Theatre
No, nothing to do with the Carla Lane sitcom from the 1970s. A collaboration between the Tangled Feet production company and the Half Moon Young People's Theatre, Butterflies is a dynamic family show that follows three friends as they embark on a range of thrilling adventures in a bid to face their fears. Combining touching humour and awe-inspiring physicality, Butterflies was viewed over 2,000 times during the first lockdown and is now being shown again as a one-off film on Vimeo. It's free (donations are welcomed), but tickets will need to be booked by 2pm on 11 December.
18. Learn while you laugh
For the past 15 years, comedian Robin Ince has presented his end-of-year stage show Nine Lessons and Carols for Curious People to sold-out audiences nationwide. Due to the coronavirus, however, this year his wacky mix of laughter, music and science is being turned into a one-off extravaganza lasting 24 hours! While tickets to the socially distanced event at London's Kings Place will cost money, the show can be live-streamed free of charge (donations are welcomed). Prepare to be seriously entertained.
19. Sing along with a symphony orchestra
A Singalong Christmas, 13 December
Here's another opportunity to croon a few festive favourites in your living room. The London Symphony Orchestra has pre-recorded a carol concert, which will be broadcast this afternoon on YouTube. Expect seasonal favourites such as ‘O Come, All ye Faithful’ and ‘The First Noel’, as well as works from the gospel world.
20. Delve into some festive history
Lewes History Group Talk: A Sussex Christmas, 14 December
You don’t have to be from Sussex to find this fascinating. Hosted on Zoom, Lewes History Group’s December talk is by historian Chris Horlock. He will be revealing how the people of Sussex celebrated Christmas in the past – and local or not, you're sure to discover some new and surprising things. Please register in advance by clicking here.
21. Be dazzled by dance
Vanishing Point, 14 December
Credit: Vanishing Point/University of Central Lancashire
An annual event, Vanishing Point showcases the work of first-year dance students at the University of Central Lancashire, along with that of youth dance companies across the North West. For obvious reasons, it's happening online this year, but it still promises to be a must for fans of dance and movement. The event is free but booking is required.
22. Do your bit for the farmers
Farm Africa Virtual Carol Concert, 16 December
Another event that's aiming to raise money for charity this Christmas is the Farm Africa Virtual Carol Concert. Hosted by Quest TV presenter Ally Hunter Blair and including readings from Monty Python legend Michael Palin and agricultural journalist Anna Jones, the event will enable you to join in with some of the UK's best-loved festive standards. Though it's free to view, you are welcome to make a donation to help rural farmers in East Africa.
23. Party like it's Christmas Eve Eve!
Designed for families in which a parent or child under 18 is living with a brain tumour, this hour-long Zoom-based shindig promises to be wonderfully uplifting. Activities planned for the session include Christmas games, a seasonal quiz and even some festive dancing. You're advised to book early, as places are expected to fill up quickly – and don't forget your Christmas jumper!
24. Enjoy a cathedral Christmas
Christmas Day Service at Salisbury Cathedral, 25 December
If a traditional church service would normally be at the top of your to-do list on Christmas Day, never fear, for the stunning Salisbury Cathedral has moved all of its services online, including its popular Christmas Day service. All you have to do to become part of its virtual congregation is head over to its website on 25 December and click on the link.
25. Have the rhyme of your life
New Year's Eve Poetry Party, 31 December
Credit: Poetry Party
If funny, curious and gripping poetry and stories read by a great bunch of actors is your thing, why not join the Poetry Party crew to wrap up your 2020 in style? After proving a hit at the Brighton Fringe, where they wowed audiences with their funny yet strange stories, Sara Haggerty, Kara Cole and Judy Leonard are promising to deliver a live stream to remember.
Photos: Getty Images, unless otherwise stated