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Things to do in December

27 November 2018
Posted By:
Jamie Bellinger
Things To Do

The festive season is here and our historic places are alive with carols, crafts and Christmas cheer. Enjoy a traditional carol concert at Rievaulx Abbey, experience Christmas on the home front at Dover Castle and meet Father Christmas himself at historic places all over England.

We’ve even taken the hard work out of planning a December day out. Our interactive online calendar is packed with days out and things to do every day of the month so you’re bound to find something close to home.

Plus, see historic gardens illuminated in a vibrant display of colour and sound with our popular series of Enchanted events throughout December.

A month of winter magic starts here… 

Did you know? 🤔

  • Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, is credited with the popularity of the Christmas tree. He introduced the tradition from his native Germany in 1840, and an image of the couple and their children around the tree at their home fueled its popularity. This year, you too can experience a Victorian Christmas at Osborne.
  • The first Christmas card was created by Sir Henry Cole in 1843. Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to design the card, which shows the scene of a family enjoying Christmas drinks. 175 years later, an estimated 900 million Christmas cards are sold each year.
  • 21 December is the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere, when the Earth’s tilt means that the sun makes its lowest arc in the sky and we experience the shortest day of the year. Many gather at Stonehenge to see the midwinter sunset align with the stones.
  • The Christmas cracker was invented by sweet-maker Tom Smith in the 1840s. Inspired by the French ‘bon bon’, he developed a twisted paper wrapper and included a short message like a fortune cookie. A crackling fireplace gave Smith the idea of the snapping banger. His son, Walter, took over the business in 1869 and added coloured hats.

Christmas tree at Osborne, Queen Victoria’s beloved holiday home on the Isle of Wight.

1. Step into a historical Christmas 🎅

An Audience with Father Christmas
Have you been on your best behaviour this year? Join in the festive fun with the man himself. Meet Father Christmas as he tells festive tales in historic places decorated for the Christmas season.

WWII Christmas at Dover Castle (Kent)
Sat 1 – Sun 2 and Sat 8 – Sun 9 December 
Take a journey back to the Home Front this Christmas and find out how the festive season was celebrated in war-time. Help us bake delicious Christmas treats on the ration, get in the festive spirit with lindy hop dancing and maybe even meet Father Christmas himself.

Victorian Christmas at Osborne (Isle of Wight)
Book now: Sat 1 – Sun 2 December
From turkey and crackers to figgy pudding, the festive season as we know it today has its roots in the Victorian era. Meet Father Christmas, enjoy roasting chestnuts and play Victorian fairground games at the beloved holiday home of Queen Victoria herself.

Explore our virtual advent calendar for something to do every day in December

2. Be Enchanted💡

Something special is happening at our historic places this winter. When the sun sets our gardens will be filled with light, colour and sound as our season of Enchanted events begins. Follow themed garden trails with hidden fairies, magical talking trees and interactive lighting displays, perfect for family pictures.

Join us for a season of enchantment at…

Book today and light up the dark December nights with us.

Our popular Enchanted events transform historic gardens into wonderlands of light, sound and colour during December.

3. Cook up a Christmas treat 🍳

As the colder weather arrives and we spend more time indoors, why not try your hand at some history-inspired crafts and recipes? Make your own traditional Christmas cracker or bake gingerbread the Victorian way with Mrs Crocombe of Audley End House. It’s a great way to bring family and friends together this season.

Things to try…

Explore all recipes and crafts

4. Enjoy a wondrous winter walk 🚶

Now is a popular time for country walks, with winter freshness in the air and crisp ground under foot. Our walking guides have everything you need for a hike through history.

Head to the Lake District and take a circular route around Stott Park Bobbin Mill on Lake Windermere. Explore the famous white cliffs with a walk from Dover Castle to Deal. Or step into the ancient Stonehenge landscape as you embark on the Great Stones Way.

Find a winter walk near you

5. Escape the 21st century for a while 🔇

Things can be a little hectic as the Christmas period approaches, so why not take some time to escape daily life and go somewhere peaceful?

Historic abbeys, churches and priories are ideal for escaping the modern world and unwinding in a tranquil setting for an hour or two. Here’s our top picks.

History through your lens last month 📷

We loved this photo shared on Instagram last month by @katie_andherlittleladies, of a family day out at Audley End House and Gardens.

“Today we visited Audley End House and Gardens… an absolutely beautiful place filled with so much to do and explore. The girls loved looking around the house, trying on clothes, playing with Victorian toys and then exploring the gardens. 🍁” 

Plan your own visit to Audley End


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  • About the Author

    Jamie Bellinger
    Jamie is a writer and editor at English Heritage.


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