Fun things to do this December
It’s Christmas and there’s lights to see, bells to jingle and mulled wine to quaff. Here’s where to do it in the Berkshire 'hood.
DRIVE-IN CINEMA: Strawberry Moon Cinema, Royal Windsor Racecourse, 19 – 21 Dec
I could do with a dozen elves right now to help with the Christmas admin. Good news for already frazzled parents Strawberry Moon’s Drive-In Cinema is coming to Royal Windsor Racecourse and there’s loads of classics to enjoy – Polar Express and Gremlins (19 Dec); Paddington and Home Alone (20 Dec); Elf and Sleepless in Seattle (21 Dec); A Muppet’s Christmas Carol and Trading Places (22 Dec); Aladdin and Die Hard (23 Dec) and Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life (24 Dec). Book your ticked, park your car, order gourmet street food and crank up the sound.
Pull up to the bumper, baby, whack up the heating and settle in for iconic Christmas classics on the big screen with your bubble. The Luna Drive In Winter Cinema is showing all the greats – Elf, The Holiday, Home Alone, Die Hard, Love Actually, The Snowman/The Snowdog, The Gruffalo, Gruffalo’s Child, Stick Man Home Alone 2, Frozen, Frozen 2, The Greatest Showman, Last Christmas and It’s A Wonderful Life. Food and drink can be delivered to your car and you can view the menu via the QR code on bluetooth speaker. Neat.
HERITAGE: Christmas At Windsor, Windsor Castle, now – 4 Jan 2021
Something a little spesh at Windsor Castle, the annual ogle of the Queen’s 200ft tree from Windsor Great Park. This year the State Dining Room table will be laid with silver-gilt pieces from the Grand Service commissioned by George IV for some serious tablescaping goals. While in the Waterloo Chamber the pantomime pictures are still on display.
THEATRE: Madagascar The Musical, South Hill Park Bracknell, 11 – 16 Dec
I like to move it, move it! Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe, Gloria the hippo and a troupe of pesky penguins explode onto Bracknell’s South Hill Park stage in Madagascar The Musical this month. A dead cert hit with the kids, and adults for that matter. Tickets here.
PANTO: Aladdin, Corn Exchange Newbury, now – 3 Jan 2021
Aladdin will be rubbing his lamp this year in Newbury and Widow Twankey is up to his neck in laundry (I hear you). It has been a devastating year for theatres but the show must go on and the Corn Exchange in Newbury always put on a fun show. Jump on that magic carpet and book your tickets pronto.
FILM: A Christmas Carol 2020, various cinemas, 18 – 24 Dec
Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol is getting another big-screen adaptation. Directed by brother-sister duo Jacqui and David Morris, the novel’s well-known characters are portrayed by dancers and voiced by a smörgåsbord of top acting talent – Carey Mulligan, Martin Freeman, Simon Russell Beale, Daniel Kaluuya and Andy Serkis. We follow a Victorian family as they prepare for their annual performance of A Christmas Carol, which takes place in a toy-theatre where the real dancers and stylised sets come alive.
PANTO: Cinderella, Theatre Royal Windsor, now – 10 Jan
You shall go to the ball… or failing that the panto. There’s a reason why families return to the Theatre Royal Windsor year after year. Filed under ‘classic cheesefest’, this year they’re putting on Cinderella. Windsor’s brilliant comedy duo, Kevin Cruise and Steven Blakeley are back, with Debbie McGee and Basil Brush are joining the cast. Booooom booooooom!
THEATRE: A Christmas Carol, The Watermill Theatre, Newbury now – 3 Jan 2021
It’s Dickens but not as you know it. This is a fun, fresh and lively adaptation of the Christmas classic. With just two actor-musicians playing Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim and the rest of the festive firm this is guaranteed to be small but perfectly formed. A story of second chances – there’s always another day and you can write a brand-new page tomorrow. All the festive feels and a healthy reminder not to be stingy with your gifts.
ILLUMINATED TRAIL: Reading Twinkly Trail, 8 Dec – 3 Jan 2021
Is it even Christmas without the flicker of candlelight or a megawatt display to ooh and ahh? New to the festive fun for 2020 is Reading’s first Twilight Trail, a magical festive wander through a sea of sparkles and illuminations in through the iconic Forbury Gardens and Abbey Ruins. Create your own light extravaganza, discover dazzling light orbs, floating mirror balls and watch the Abbey Ruins come alive with sound and light. It’s basically Reading’s answer to Studio 54. Tickets (from £8) must be booked in advance. Under 2s are free.
DRINK: A Virtual Taste of Christmas, The Tasting House Reading, 16 Dec
Tis the season to be merry and who are we to argue with tradition. Tickle you tastebuds with a selection of wines that are just perfect for the festive season. For the first time The Tasting House in Reading will be taking their wine tasting online, leaving you to get tipsy without the need for a kebab or taxi home.
Santa Lunches, Cantley House Hotel, Wokingham, 20 Dec
Where there’s food, you’ll find Father Christmas. Throughout December he’ll be popping up for his roast every Sunday until the poor reindeer have to take flight. Head to Cantley House’s new converted barn restaurant for a three-course thriller with lashings of gravy and Yorkshire puds. The big man will come and say hi with a gift for each child, so keep an eye on your table manners and stop chewing with your mouth full – the elves are watching.
Breakfast with Santa, Crocus at Dorney Court Windsor, 18, 22 and 23 Dec
Ho ho ho… Hot breakfast with the big man himself. Yup, Father Christmas is bulking up for Christmas Eve and Dorney Court is hosting. The kids will tuck into an ‘Elves Breakfast’ (Free range fried egg, bacon, beans with toast), decorate gingerbread and received a gift from the big FC. Please be aware that this year things will be very different, and the elves will be working very hard to keep everyone safe. Sounds good to me – £14.95 per child. Adults £10.95. Call 01628 669 999 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book.
PANTO: Jack & the Beanstalk, Braywick Leisure Centre Maidenhead, 19 – 24 Dec
There are very few pantos to go to this and with theatres selling few tickets to keep everyone Covid-safe, you’ll need to grab tickets when you can. Maidenhead’s annual panto is back with oodles of festive fee-fi-fo-fum, as our bean-obsessed hero Jack learns an important lesson about the dangers than lurk when you throw stuff out the window.
ONLINE: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Creation Theatre, 19 Dec – 3 Jan 2021
The Christmas panto may be a write-off this year, but this clever production of The Wizard of Ozfrom Creation Theatre is the next best thing. Live, online performances will take place from 19 December, including Christmas Eve, with an interactive audience (so if you dial in at the same time as Auntie Brenda, you’ll be able to spot her on screen). Tickets cost £30 per device.
THEATRE: A Christmas Carol, South Hill Park Bracknell, 22 – 24 Dec
I think we’ll all be haunted by Christmas 2020, so there’s no better time to see this Charles Dickens classic. The Apollo Theatre Company brings its brand-new adaptation of A Christmas Carol to South Hill Park in Bracknell. Join Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, the ghosts of past, present and future for a night of festive spooky entertainment.
KIDS THEATRE: Pinocchio, Norden Farm Maidenhead, 22 – 24 Dec
The objects of a carpenter’s workshop bring to life the tale of the puppet that wants to be a real boy, and the puppet-maker who wants to be a real father. A one man show starring Steve Tiplady, as Geppetto where Pinocchio is carved on stage, brushes become a fox and the shadow of two saws become a shark. The mix of puppetry, shadows, illusion and music, make this a must-watch show. Tickets available for the theatre and each performance will be live streamed too.
XMAS: Lantern Parade Trail, Norden Farm Maidenhead,
Let’s be honest there is nothing normal about 2020. But Maidenhead’s infamous Lantern Parade will go ahead, it’s just going to be a little bit different. Say hello to the 2020 Lantern Trail – a covid-friendly community project which will illuminate Maidenhead following a dark year. Buy your kit, pick it from Norden Farm, tune in to the on-demand video workshop to make your balloon lantern. Then wait for instructions on the timings for Maidenhead’s glow up.
SHOPPING: Winter Night Market and Christmas Fair, Norden Farm Maidnhead, 18 – 19 Dec
If you’re on the hunt for arty crafty, meaningful gifts this year, Norden Farm’s Artisan Market is the perfect pitstop. Local artists and artisans will be selling their handmade gifts at the Winter Night Market on the 18th and the Christmas Fair on the 19th. You’ll find jewellery, ceramics, glassware, decorations, candles, textile gifts and more! Mulled wine and festive flavoured coffee on tap. Free entry.
CINEMA: Drive-in Christmas Cinema, The Wellington Arms Stratfield Turgis, 21 – 23 Dec
Fancy a festive film night? The Wellington Arms in Stratfield Turgis will be screening all the Christmas classics. But which to choose? There’s Frozen, Arthur Christmas and The Grinch on 21 Dec. Klaus, Muppet Christmas Caolr and Love Actually on 22 Dec and Polar Express, Home Alone and Elf on 23 Dec.. Book a spot for your car, you’ll be given a bluetooth speaker and pub food and popcorn can be purchased and delivered to your car – so you can sit back and enjoy! Love love love this!
FAMILY FUN: Lapland UK, Ascot, 3 Dec – 24 Dec
Good news, kids, Santa’s quit the North Pole, perpetual darkness and Northern Lights, to set up shop in the UK. The big man heard post-Brexit Britain will be a tax haven. Santa HQ is now in Berkshire. Journey through snowy enchanted forests, to Santa’s chalet, where he and his elves need a little assistance in preparing for the 24 Dec. If you can’t get tickets, bookings open soon for the Elflets’ Christmas Celebration’ (26 Dec – Jan 2021). It’s a four-hour immersive experience so pack the tramadol and Kendal Mint Cake.
XMAS: Legoland at Christmas, Legoland Windsor, 3 – 24 Dec
Legoland is all twinkly lights and snow-dusted Christmas magic. Entry price for the Christmas season includes a visit to LEGO Santa in his magic grotto for kids who’ll receive a LEGO gift to take home. Make a Lego decoration and scavenger hunt with the elves. Think of your children’s faces lighting up and the enormous gin you’ll need the you get home.
WORKSHOPS: Wreath Workshops, all over Berkshire, throughout December
I love a wreath workshop and this year was no different. This is my 2020 effort (above), courtesy of an at home kit from the Wessex Flower Co. But if you fancy an in real life or virtual workshop there are plenty to be booked throughout December. Click here and you’ll find 13 of the best in the Berkshire ‘hood and snag your spot on one near you.
OUTDOORS: Basildon Park, Lower Basildon, throughout December
Basildon Park knows how to shake its jingle bells at Christmas – and this year is no exception. The illuminated woodland walk s back, there’ll be sumptuously decorated trees, twinkling fairy lights and lavish displays (Government green light permitting). Oh and there’s winter activity trail with Peter Rabbit which should keep the kids busy long enough until you can grab hot chocolate and cake. Booking is essential.
HERITAGE: Christmas Tours, Highclere Castle Newbury, various dates throughout Dec
Pretend you’re starring in your own Christmas special of Downton Abbey – but without any inappropriate snogging of footman below stairs. Lord and Lady Carnarvon have decked the halls pf Highclere Castle, put up their tree and are ready to party. You can get your dressed up for a twinkly evening tour followed by Champagnes or look through the keyhole during the day followed by a seated afternoon tea.
OUTDOORS: Cliveden National Trust, Taplow, throughout December
Expect a charming Christmas trail round the stunning grounds inspired by stories of Peter Rabbit. Swing by the Sounding Chamber and you’ll hear festive choral music recorded by local choirs. For something naughty and nice, book a Christmas afternoon tea in the deliciously decadent Cliveden Dining Room too. Booking is essential.
THEATRE: Car Park Panto – Horrible Christmas, Newbury Racecourse, 23 Dec
The world’s first drive-in panto, courtesy of Horrible Histories. Get in the festive spirit in a safe, socially distanced manner, from the comfort of their own sleigh or car if that’s how you roll! From Victorian villains to Medieval monks, Puritan parties to Tudor treats, join the cast on a hair-raising adventure through the history of Christmas in the company of Charles Dickens, Oliver Cromwell, King Henry VIII and St Nicholas as they all join forces to save the festive season!
Stonor Park, Henley
Stonor’s big Christmas 2020 celebrations have had to be postponed until next year due the November lockdown but the adventure playground and gardens are opening for two weekends this month (5-6 and 12-13 December) to allow cooped up families to let off steam. The visitor centre will be open for drinks and light snacks too. Pre-booked tickets are essential.
XMAS: Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury, Bucks 3 Dec – 3 Jan 2021
Light ’em up and shake your jingle bells at this lot! Waddesdon is bringing all the sparkle this season with a stunning light trail, light shows on the facade of the manor house and a Christmas fair. From dusk, look out for the valley of flickering flames creating a sea of fire, and dozens of suspended orbs in a walk-through musical light show. Head to the stables to snap a picture inside one of the two huge LED baubles at the Stables, followed by Parallels on the Coach House, a light in motion creation of colourful pipes that twist and turn in an immersive performance set to music.
ILLUMINATED TRAIL: Christmas at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxon, now – 3 Jan 2021
Blenheim always goes the whole hog with its Illuminated Light Trail and this year there’ll be over 100,000 for the Tunnel of Light, a Laser Garden, scented Fire Garden and light finale on the Water Terrace and front of the Palace set to music. 2020 brings new surpises from the Heart of the Stars scattering shards of light across the lawn to a mesmerising spot where, beneath the branches of a sprawling tree, fairy-fire glows known as Will-o-the-Wisps. Christmas tours of the Palace in all its festive glory can be booked separately.
HERITAGE: Hughenden Manor, High Wycombe, Bucks, now – 4 Jan 2021
Dreaming of a green Christmas? This year Hughenden’s taken tis Inspiration from nature. See the gardens and manor (fingers crossed) dressed with handmade baubles, natural festive displays and decorations from Christmases past.
ILLUMINATED TRAIL: Kew Gardens, London, now – 14 Jan 2021
A spectacular winter trail with over a million twinkling lights and thousands of laser beams, Kew’s light show is awe-inspiring. You can be mesmerised by the Fire Garden, walk through the moonlit woods and check out the laser garden. Mulled wine, hot choc and spiced cider will help keep you warm and the kids can whizz round on vintage fairground rides whilst looking out for Santa and his elves.
DAYS OUT: Hogwarts in the Snow, Harry Potter Studios, Watford, now – 17 Jan 2021
Hogwarts in the Snow – as regular as Christmas! The festive makeover sees Christmas trees line the Great Hall, the Gryffindor common room dressed for the season and a blanket of filmmaking snow covering the majestic Hogwarts castle model. Visitors can touch samples of the different types of ‘snow’ used during production, each selected for its ability to float, crunch under foot or glisten in the light like ice. Trust me, your kids will love it.
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
XMAS: Winter Lantern Trail, Corn Exchange Newbury, 11 – 13 Dec
Oooh, sparkly lights! The annual Newbury lantern parade is a really special event. Rather than ooh and ahh on the sidelines, why not grab a lantern kit and take part in the processions 11-13 Dec. Beautiful sculptural lanterns, light and music will guide you on a magical journey along the banks of the Kennet & Avon canal.
KIDS THEATRE: The Magic Porridge Pot and Other Tales, Norden Farm Maidenhead, 10 – 12 Dec
One for younger kids , these two tasty tales are served with unexpected spices and quirky flavours, along with the Theatre of Widdershins’ trademark ingredients of puppets, pop-up sets and original music. Perfect fare for fussy foodies and discerning diners. Plus if you can’t get a seat in the reduced-capacity theatre, performances are being live streamed for you to watch at home.
EXHIBITION: Quentin Blake and John Yoeman – 50 Years of Children’s Books, The Base Greenham, now – Sun 13 Dec
Just like wine and cheese, Quentin Blake and Roald Dahl trip off the tongue. But a new exhibition at The Base in Greenham Common reveals Quentin Blake’s longest collaboration was in fact with the author John Yeoman. House of Illustration’s 50 Years of Children’s Books exhibition is the first to celebrate this partnership. It features the original drawings for A Drink of Water, and 10 other projects – from picture books and short novels.
MUSIC: Katherine Jenkins’ Christmas Spectacular, Corn Exchange Newbury, 4 – 10 Dec
Katherine Jenkins is spreading seasonal joy one aria at a time. This is a classical Christmas musical filmed at the iconic Royal Albert Hall where she performs seasonal faves and traditional carols with a dollop of nostalgic Hollywood glamour. Katherine will be joined by actors Vanessa Redgrave and Bill Nighy, opera’s Sir Bryn Terfel and Alberto Urso, American Broadway star Marisha Wallace, English National Ballet Lead Principal Erina Takahashi, the Royal Air Force Regiment Band and many more.
THEATRE: A Christmas Carol, Dominion Theatre London, now – 2 Jan 2021
Not a trad panto, but Charles Dickens’s seasonal ghost story A Christmas Carol remains omnipresent-ish, with the Old Vic reprising its annual production (for an online-only audience), the Watermill in Newbury chipping in with an eccentric two-hander, and this, a big West End staged concert revival of Alan Menken’s 1994 musical adaptation, which was a seasonal fixture in New York for a decade or so. Brian Conley plays Scrooge, alongside more than 50 musicians and actors.