Christmas is now officially open: here’s how to celebrate

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Stevie Martin and Emma Ledger
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No one wants an all-year Christmas, but now we’re close enough to the big day to really go for it. Let the revelling begin

I first saw them while shopping for a Halloween costume (I went as a tortoise. Yes, it was a roaring success). Advent calendars. In October. Who buys an advent calendar two months before they actually need it and doesn’t immediately eat the whole thing? For me, it’s a real achievement not to do this in December.

Soon after, I noticed the high streets had started hanging unlit Christmas lights before Bonfire Night. The bulbs perched on lampposts looking apologetic for an entire month, guilt-tripping you into thinking about what to buy your brother’s girlfriend now, because once some Z-list celebrity turns those lights on, you’re going to run out of time and get her Ferrero Rocher again. And she’s now vegan.

It feels like Christmas is starting earlier every year. There’s now a solid pre-festive season of resistance where I exchange “Ugh, already?” comments with friends when we see tinsel and groan every time Bono thanks God it’s them instead of you. I refuse to engage in any part of the festive season in early November. It’s unnecessary overkill. I firmly believe you can have too much of a good thing, and that forcing the Yuletide magic to start earlier only weakens it. 

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But for all this determined refusal to acknowledge the festive trappings, there comes a time when we must officially hit go on Christmas 2018 – and that time is now. Today, Christmas is officially open.

There is less than a month to go till C-day. It’s time to plug into the Christmas mainframe, embrace every part of this merry-making season and just bloody go for it. From now until the big day it’s your duty to get lost in a giddy blur of mulled wine, Elf reruns, and nobody being able to find the Sellotape. Dig out that novelty jumper, load up on Christmas sandwiches and compile a Spotify playlist of festive songs that don’t make you want to scream. I, for example, can’t get enough of Destiny’s Child’s 8 Days Of Christmas; it’s lyrically and melodically horrific, but an essential snapshot of Noughties life (On the third day, their ‘baby’ gives them “a gift certificate to get my favourite CDs”).

Christmas is now officially open…

You’ve probably got a pre-Christmas tradition with your friends or family, maybe it’s visiting a German market or going ice-skating. It might just be meeting up in a particularly festive pub to tank up on spiced cider near an open fire. Every year my mates and I go for a singalong screening of The Muppet Christmas Carol complete with costumes. Truly, you haven’t known joy until you’ve belted out Scrooge-inspired bangers while dressed as a Poundland Miss Piggy.

If you don’t fancy braving the cold, invite people over for a get-together, complete with Heston Blumenthal’s annual weird dessert for Waitrose – this year it’s a pile of charcoal profiteroles. Or host a festive film binge. As well as loads of the old favourites, Netflix has three new flicks: The Holiday Calendar, The Princess Switch and The Christmas Chronicles

The latter stars Kurt Russell as Santa, which might be the most unlikely casting since Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa, but who’s to say it’s not going to be a future classic? Filled with financial dread? ’Tis not the season to cry at cash points. There are loads of feel-good freebies. Go for a walk on high streets bedecked in glittering lights, google free carol concerts, or get into the spirit by doing something kind for someone else. Donate to a charity. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Message friends you don’t ever see, because it’s Christmas and that’s the best excuse to hang out.

If you don’t fancy braving the cold, invite people over for a get-together

If you’ve had a rubbish year, or don’t want to see anyone, crank up the heating and treat yourself to homemade eggnog on tap (NB: Dutch Advocaat plus lemonade equals the easiest nog ever). Christmas is all about giving and being kind to others, but reflect that back on yourself too with some seasonal self-care: there’s definitely an ‘I’ in ‘Christmas’.

For months the holidays have been comin’: now they’re officially here, it’s time to get into the swing of things. Because before you know it, it’ll be 2 January and you’ll be back at work wishing you’d gone for it just that little bit more. 

Looking to get in the festive spirit? Read on for our ultimate guide to the best places to celebrate Christmas…

For Insta-Hyped Igloos

The Pingu Edition at Coppa Club

Jimmy Garcia’s The Lodge 

London until 6 January; South Bank, SE1; from £600 for 10 people;

There are no better views of the Thames than those from inside one of these heated, fairy-lit, decorated igloos. All the atmosphere of the South Bank, but with all the privacy of having your own little bubble. 


London until 27 January; Tobacco Dock, E1; from £150;

Take in the capital’s skyline while sitting under the stars in a cosy igloo and working your way through mulled wine and raclette. Even Scrooge would be cheered.

Coppa club

London until 31 January; from £70; EC3R;

Tickets for these stunning igloos are like gold dust, and this year they’ve partnered with Sipsmith to bring you hot G&Ts. Check the website for cancellations and new bookings.

The Refinery

Manchester until 31 January; from £20 per person; Hardman Boulevard, M3;

Back for a second year, enjoy some vodka winter warmers and festive nibbles in these city centre igloos kitted out with armchairs and faux furs.

Savage Garden

London until 28 February; from £25 per person; EC3;

Step through the back of a wardrobe to discover a Narnia-themed haven of huge igloos filled with cosy blankets, twinkling lights and hot toddies.

For Carol-oke

Sing your heart out at the Royal Albert Hall

Bar Hutte Carol-oke

London, Liverpool and Manchester until 23 December; various locations; £30;

Get transported straight to the Alps by hiring a wooden ‘hütte’ and indulging in two hours of singing using their carol-oke machine. Throw in festive cocktails and sheepskin rugs for extra Instagram points.

Carradine’s Cockney Singalong 

London 4 December; Union Chapel, N1; £5;

Gather round the piano with 100 others for an old-fashioned knees-up. There’ll be festive snacks and drinks, plus song sheets if you don’t know the words.

Christmas Carol Singalong

Birmingham 23 December; Symphony Hall, B1; from £13;

A festive favourite that’s been raising the roof for more than 20 years, this is your chance to go full Mariah and belt out all your Christmas favourites and popular carols backed by a full orchestra.

A Hollywood Christmas

London 19 December; Royal Albert Hall, SW7; from £35;

Spend a special evening with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra performing scores from all your favourite Christmas films and classic carols. A turbocharged dose of festive cheer.

For Christmas Cocktails

We challenge you not to feel festive at Miracle on Seel Street

Thor’s Tipi Bar

Leeds until 31 December; Victoria Gardens, LS1; free;

Escape the shopping madness at this Vikinginspired pop-up that has its own hot chocolate station, complete with boozy hot choc-tails. It’s a queue-magnet and doesn’t take bookings, so get there early to land grab.

Miracle on Seel Street

Liverpool until 31 December; Seel Street, L1; £10;

Get hygge with it at this glittering, grown-up Santa’s grotto decked out in fairy lights with cosy armchairs, Christmas film screenings, festive snacks and their very own homemade Irish cream.

The Rekorderlig Cider Lodge

London until 6 January; South Bank, SE1; free;

London’s South Bank is given a festive Scandi makeover at this wooden lodge, complete with fire pit, cosy blankets and, of course, gallons of Swedish spiced plum cider cocktails.

Abbey Hotel Apres-Ski Bar

Bath until 22 December; North Parade, BA1; free;

Right next to Bath’s Christmas Market you’ll find this cosy snow-topped cabin where you can warm yourself by the fire and recharge with their signature Winter Mojito.

Hot Toddy Garden

Edinburgh until 6 January; Festival Village at Waverley Mall, EH1; free;

The trees are adorned with gin-filled baubles at this rooftop pop-up from Pickering’s Gin. The hot toddy menu includes a mulled sloe gin, while food comes from local favourites Pizza Geeks.

For Magic Markets

Glühwein and gift shopping at Edinburgh Christmas Market

Etsy Made Local

Bristol 1-2 December; City Hall, BS1; free;

Support small businesses at this marketplace with more than 70 local independent makers. It’s your one-stop Christmas shop.

The Great Northern Christmas Makers Market

Manchester until 22 December; Great Northern Warehouse, M3; free;

Calling all epicures: the finest food, drink, art and design all gather under one historic roof every Thursday to Sunday from now until Christmas.

City Social

Birmingham until 21 December; Suffolk Street Queensway, B1; free

Tucked away in an underpass, this market is packed with local food, drink and craft stalls, plus there’s live music at weekends.

Crafty Fox Market

London Various dates and locations; free;

Warm up with a mulled wine as you browse a huge range of indie traders’ stalls or join in a festive workshop to make your own decorations.

The Edinburgh Christmas Market

Edinburgh until 5 January; East Princes Street Gardens, EH2; free;

If you don’t have glühwein in one hand and bratwurst in the other is it even Christmas? This festive market brings the Scottish capital alive with 300 stalls and a tree maze.

For Christmas Lights

Just be grateful you’re not paying the electricity bill at Dunham Massey

Dunham Massey

Greater Manchester until 30 December; Altrincham, WA14; £16.50;

Grab a spiced cider and explore the scented fire garden, walk through the tunnel of light and gawp at enormous glittering deer at this National Trust house.

Chiswick House and Gardens

London Thurs-Sun until 30 December; Chiswick, W4; £16.50;

As night falls, this 18th-century villa will be transformed by a breathtaking light display from designer Nick Gray and a soundtrack curated by Kasabian’s Serge Pizzorno.

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Edinburgh until 30 December; Arboretum Place, EH3; £14;

From glowing larger-than-life flowers to huge illuminated tree sculptures – there’s no such thing as OTT at this winter walking trail where fairytale meets fantasy.

Southwark Park

London until 5 January; Jamaica Road, SE16; £15;

More than 160 giant lanterns and thousands of twinkling lights guide you through this interactive trail that tells the story of Alice In Wonderland. You’ll be grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

For Festive Flicks

Revisit a classic on the rooftop at the Berkeley

The Berkeley

London until January; Wilton Place, SW1; £75;

Snuggle up in your heated velvet blanket and sip mulled wine at the capital’s twinkliest rooftop cinema, which is showing The Nutcracker and Miracle On 34th Street. More tickets for this popular event are expected soon so watch this space.

St George’s Hall

Liverpool 19-23 December; St George’s Place, L1; £11;

For the first time this atmospheric 19th-century hall will host festive films thanks to The Luna Cinema, showing everything from The Muppet Christmas Carol to Die Hard.

Sneaky Experience

Leeds 22 December; Canal Mills, LS12; from £20;

For one day only watch a Christmas movie marathon of three classics – Home Alone, Elf and Love Actually – back to back followed by an after-party. Thankfully, there’s drinks and street food to keep you fuelled.

Bristol Zoo

Bristol until 23 December; College Road, BS8; £15;

Every Sunday from now until Christmas you can visit your favourite wintery animals (hi penguins!) then head indoors for an intimate screening of a festive classic.


Glasgow 7 December; Eastvale Place, G3; £17;

Hold on to your seats, Alternative Cinema Sessions presents Home Alone as a full sensory experience where you can touch, taste and smell the film.

Images: Rex Features, Getty Images


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