25 Free things to do in December

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National Christmas Jumper Day - plus 24 more opportunities for fun this month

1. Sing Christmas Carols beneath the most famous Christmas tree in England

5-23 December (except 10 & 17 December). 4-8pm weekdays. 2-6pm weekends.

Since 1947, the people of Norway have sent a Christmas tree to London in thanks for Britain’s help in World War II. (They also send one to various other British cities, including Grimsby, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Sunderland and Aberdeen.)

The lights go on on 1 December and almost every afternoon throughout December a series of choirs will be leading carol singing, beneath it. Why not go and join in? london.gov.uk/about-us/our-building-and-squares/christmas-trafalgar-square

2. Frost Fair Festival exhibition

Museum of London Docklands, 3-4 December

In the Great Frost of 1683, the Thames was frozen solid for two months – in places, the ice was 11 inches thick. And when the river froze, frost fairs were held. It was traditional: between 1608 and 1814, the Thames froze over 19 times.

On the weekend of 3-4 December, the excellent Museum of London Docklands is recreating the spirit of the Frost Fairs – the last of which was held in 1814 – by getting together some of the games and performances, crafts and foods that would have made 17th and 18th Century Christmas fairs magical and fun.

Photo: The frozen Thames at Windsor in 1963. (PA) 


3. Learn Circus Skills

Foyer Spaces, Southbank Centre, 3-4 December

Not just juggling and object manipulation but also acro-balance and tumbling… performers from the NoFit State Circus come to the Festival Hall to lead a free workshop for the public. It’s fun and – as regular readers will know – it’s good for you, too! There are workshops for adults and children, from ages eight and upwards – plus a workshop for children aged five to seven.


4 Sing karaoke with a mini big band

Clore Ballroom, Royal Festival Hall, 17 December, 10-12pm.

Sign up to have the chance to sing festive karaoke with a 10-piece backing band. Of course, not everyone in the audience gets a turn…


5 Santa Dash

Throughout December

Events nationwide, from Aldershot to Yeovil

Santa sprints, Reindeer rambles and Elf and safety runs take place nationwide throughout December – just pop on a red hat and some trainers and join in to raise money for charity.

See santadash.co.uk for a list of links to events

Not to be confused with…

6 The biggest pub crawl for Santas everywhere

London, various routes

Santacon is a non-profit, non-political, non-religious and non-sensical Christmas parade that traditionally takes place in London every December. Dress up in Santa suits, run around, give gifts, sing songs, and have a stranger sit on your lap. Different routes for adults and for families.


7. Wildlife Photographer of the Year

To 19 February 2017. National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, EH1.

The 100 most breathtaking shots from an original entry of 50,000 photographs worldwide are on display over the winter in Edinburgh. It's a touring exhibition but this is the only chance to see it in Scotland.

Photo: Ruffs on the Norwegian tundra, shot by Czech photographer Andrej Pelanek, winner of the 2015 Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year award.

8. Get in the festive spirit

Christmas Past at Geoffrey Museum, London E2, 22 November to 8 January

Step back through the centuries and discover the origins and meanings of some of the rich and vibrant traditions of Christmas past, from feasting, dancing and kissing under the mistletoe to playing parlour games, hanging up stockings, sending cards, decorating the tree and throwing cocktail parties.


9. Bath Christmas Market

From 24 November

One of the twinkliest celebrations of the festive season in the country, featuring 170 wooden chalets selling high-quality artisan products surrounding the beautifully lit Abbey.


10. Walk around Dickens’ London – free App

Our modern idea of Christmas celebrations was formed during the 19th Century – Prince Albert was credited with popularizing the German tradition of Christmas trees in the UK, for one thing. And what better way to get into the atmosphere of an old, gas-lit Victorian Christmas than to explore the hidden haunts of Charles Dickens’ Victorian London? 

This free App/audio walking guide has been written by Dickens expert Richard Jones and takes you on a route between Temple tube station and Holborn, with recommended stops for liquid refreshment on the way.


11. Winter Wonderland

Hyde Park, London

Now in its 10th year, Hyde Park's celebration of Christmas includes a host of festive fun and activities, including big top shows, an observation wheel and a huge Christmas market. Free to enter and soak up the festive atmosphere, though some activities require a paid-for ticket, including ice skating, the observation wheel, Zippos Circus and the Magical Ice Kingdom.


12. Burning of The Clocks

Brighton 21 Dec, 6.30-8.30

A unique opportunity to gather and carry lanterns through Brighton on the winter solstice, to welcome the lengthening days, culminating in a spectacular pyrotechnic firework display and bonfire on Brighton beach. Bring a flask of hot tea.


13. National Christmas Jumper Day

16 December nationwide

What's on your Christmas jumper? A snowman? A Santa? A reindeer with a red nose? A family slumped in front of ITV after a big dinner? Whatever it is, this is your chance to wear it – and donate £2 to Save the Children (or £1 if you're at school; dogs go free, apparently). Here's Professor Wenger and his Arsenal team showing that they know how to get into the spirit of things.


14 Free carols in Wells Cathedral

December 10, 6pm onwards

Somerset Community Foundation invites the public to its annual Sing for Somerset carol service in magnificent Wells Cathedral, featuring a festival mix of traditional and contemporary music.


15. Christmas Fun with Exmoor Ponies

Exmoor Pony Centre, Dulverton, Somerset TA22 9QE, 

18 December, 12-3pm

Celebrate the festive season by riding and/or grooming an Exmoor Pony. There will also be a Christmas Trail, a selection of crafts and mince pies, soup and refreshments (Note: the minimum age for pony rides is four years). Would make a great surprise treat for a child.


16. Seaside Christmas Fayre

Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, East Cliff Promenade, Bournemouth, BH1 3AA

Bournemouth’s Christmas Fayre has a range of stalls selling festive wares and gifts. Visitors to the historic house this weekend will enjoy the festive atmosphere viewing the house decorated for a traditional Victorian Christmas with musical performances


17. A Victorian Christmas

Museum of Lincolnshire Life, Lincoln, LN1 3LY

A host of Victorian characters prepare the sights and smells of a traditional Christmas in the museum’s historic room-sets. The museum’s Victorian Christmas Tea Room will offer traditional cake and hot drink deals in a festive atmosphere too.


18. Brass in the Park

Clarence Park bandstand, Wakefield

December 11, 2-4pm

Wakefield Music Collective presents Brass in the Park with the best local brass bands. Spend a relaxing afternoon in the park, bring a winter picnic and the family. Refreshments are served in the interval.


19. See the world's oldest Bible (and John Lennon’s notebook)

Treasures of the British Library exhibition

Place the triumphs or otherwise of X Factor, Strictly and I’m a Celebrity into some kind of cultural context by going to have a look at the actual Magna Carta (1215) and Handel’s original hand-noted music for The Messiah (1741), alongside original John Lennon lyrics and Da Vinci’s notebooks. Oh – and a copy of the most valuable book in the world: the Gutenberg Bible [pictured] of the 1450s, the first book to be printed in any kind of mass-produced fashion. Only 49 survive and each one is believed to be worth in excess of £20m. But you can see it for free. 


20. Christmas tree festival

Chester Cathedral

Back for a fourth year, Chester Cathedral cloisters will be filled with more than 50 majestic Christmas trees. Lose yourself in the tree-lined winter walkways and vote for your favourite.


21. Magic and Lights 

Manchester Museum of Science and Industry 22 December to 8 January

Scientists explain how magicians use 'tricks of the light' to create illusions. Suitable for ages five-plus and part of the MSI's 'Light!' season, which also includes intriguing sessions about kaleidoscopes and 3D. 


22. Cornish Christmas shopping weekend

Wadebridge, north Cornwall, 9-10 December

Wadebridge boasts around 150 shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs, supporting Cornish businesses. A craft fair runs in the town hall throughout Friday and Saturday, and there will be choirs, a samba band, town brass band, and a folk dance in the town hall on Saturday evening. Firework display at around 8.15.


23. Andy Warhol comes to Manchester

Whitworth Gallery, Manchester. From 19 November

Andy Warhol's Marilyn in a gallery

Maybe you thought the pop art of Andy Warhol was frivolous or lightweight or fun... but this collection of his work centres on the big, darker themes in his work: death, War, money – and how they all relate to the American Dream – which, given the current heated discussions of America's immediate future, seems topical, for an artist who died in 1987.  whitworth.manchester.ac.uk

24. Welsh Art for Christmas

Wales Museum of Modern Art, Machynlleth

Just at the south of Snowdonia, the Wales Museum of Modern Art is a bit of a hidden gem: behind a foyer the size of a normal shop are six galleries, with ever-changing free exhibitions, currently including ‘Christmas Selection’, a selection of original works by Welsh artists, chosen to make ideal Christmas gifts.


25. Celebrate England winning the World Cup!

To 23 April 2017

While it’s STILL only 50 years of hurt, go along and enjoy the special exhibition on England’s 1966 World Cup win, either at the National Football Museum in Manchester or at Wembley Stadium. Players, officials, fans and bystanders share their experience, while new tech recreates the atmosphere inside Wembley that magical July day. Immersive, interactive and nostalgic all at once.


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