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How to get into the seasonal spirit

There are so many ways to enjoy the festivities this year, whether it's Christmas carols, ice rinks or winter walks
  • @lucygillmore

What's the attraction?

Love it or loathe it, the festive season is in full swing, with carols ringing out of medieval cloisters, lantern-lit parades, merry German markets, Santa fun runs and reindeer road shows spiralling out across the country.


But don't worry, if you're not already roasting chestnuts on an open fire or dreaming of a white Christmas there's still time to get into the festive spirit. For instance, if you're in Glasgow today, you can snuggle up on a sofa at the open-air cinema in George Square and watch the classic film White Christmas on a giant screen from 6-8pm as part of the Glasgow Loves Christmas festivities (glasgowloveschristmas.com); next Wednesday it's Scrooge, the 1951 adaptation of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. More events are listed on enjoyengland.com/things-to-do/Christmas-2011; visitwales.co.uk/christmas-breaks; discovernorthernireland.com/christmas and visitscotland.com.

If you're jaded by the commercial razzmatazz a new website, our-land.co.uk, could offer the remedy. It features low-key attractions across the south of England that hark back to simpler times. At Wilderness Wood (01825 830509; wildernesswood.co.uk) in Sussex, for example, you can cut down your own Christmas tree and collect pine cones, holly and woodbine to make wreaths and decorations.


Ring out the solstice bells

Celebrate the eve of the winter solstice in Brighton next Wednesday. Thousands of people will gather to walk along the seafront then burn lanterns on the beach to observe the shortest day and greet the lengthening daylight. Burning the Clocks, the Winter Solstice Parade starts on Madeira Drive at 7.15pm (burningtheclocks.co.uk).

Perhaps the most evocative observance of the solstice will be at Stonehenge in Wiltshire. A three-mile guided Midwinter Solstice walk through the surrounding landscape starts at 1pm next Wednesday (01980 664780; visitwiltshire.co.uk).


The ghost of Christmas past

The Grassington Dickensian Festival (0845 094 2819; grassington.uk.com) in the Yorkshire Dales celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. On Saturday, the village will be peopled by locals in Victorian dress and the cobbled square peppered with stalls.

At Rochester Castle in Kent, the Dickens Christmas Market (dickenschristmasmarket.com) runs until Sunday, with roast chestnuts, gluhwein, festive food and craft stalls.

And at Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire, Blists Hill Victorian Town celebrates Christmas this weekend in period style, with events including Punch and Judy and cookery demos (£14.95; ironbridge.org.uk).


A Christmas carol

For a seasonal sing-song, head to the bustle of Trafalgar Square in central London. It wouldn't be Christmas without a stirring rendition of Good King Wenceslas or The First Noël and every evening from 5-9pm until next Thursday, choirs from around London and South-east England will perform festive favourites in the shadow of the giant Norwegian Christmas tree (visitlondon.co.uk).


Chills and thrills

For ice skating with atmosphere, head to the outdoor rinks in the shadow of the Tower of London, Edinburgh Castle, Hampton Court Palace or the Gothic grandeur of Winchester Cathedral. At the newly designed, icicle-ringed rink at the Eden Project in Cornwall there are also Chilly Penguin sessions for six to 12 year olds on Sunday mornings with rink races, team games and prizes (£5; 01726 811972; edenproject.com).


Walking in a winter wonderland

Fairy lights have been strung from the branches at Westonbirt, the National Arboretum in Gloucestershire, transforming it into a twinkling wonderland. After a frosty stroll you can warm up with roast chestnuts and a glass of mulled wine (5-8.30pm Friday, Saturday and Sunday; £9; 03000 680400; forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt).

The Ramblers Festival of Winter Walks sets off on Christmas Eve and runs until 2 January with more than 800 walks across England, Scotland and Wales (ramblers.org. uk). A number of National Trust properties are also hosting walks over the Christmas period (nationaltrust.org.uk).


Festive fatigue?

Then let someone else do the cooking. The Llawnroc (01726 843461; thellawnrochotel. co.uk), a new boutique hotel in Gorran Haven in Cornwall is celebrating Christmas with a three-night Christmas break that includes a three-course lunch on Christmas Day and a Boxing Day walk around The Lost Gardens of Heligan. From £670 per room, based on two sharing.

The Gilpin Hotel (015394 88818; gilpinlodge.co.uk) in the Lake District has a four-night break from 23 December including lunch on on a boat on Lake Windermere on Christmas Eve. From £2,240 per double.


Festive family fun

At the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in Welney, Norfolk, from Saturday until Tuesday 3 January, children can feed the wild swans daily at 3.30pm. Plus next Tuesday they can spend the day making Christmas cards and decorations and baking festive treats (01353 860711; wwt.org.uk; children £6, adults £7.10. Booking essential).

At Chatsworth in Derbyshire, children can take part in a traditional nativity at the farmyard, starring real animals at Chatsworth in Derbyshire this weekend (01246 565430; chatsworth.org).

If your child is a budding chef, the Lucy Cooks cookery school in the Lake District is offering the chance to learn how to conjure up festive treats. The one-day cookery course this Sunday costs £125 for one adult and a child, including lunch (01539 822507; lucycooks.co.uk).

The West Somerset Railway is making its way to Santa's grotto through the Quantock Hills and along the Exmoor Coast this weekend, next Wednesday and on Christmas Eve (01643 704996; west-somerset-railway.co.uk; adults and children from £8.50).

And for some post-Christmas fun, children can learn how to make wooden toys at Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire. There will also be carols, games, storytelling, mince pies and hot spiced cider (27–31 December; 0870 333 1183; english-heritage.org.uk/kenilworth; adults £20, children £10).


Who said that?

"Bah!" said Scrooge. "Humbug!" – A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

"Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, all the snow in Alaska won't make it white." – Bing Crosby

"Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart." – Washington Irving

"Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more." – How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr Seuss


Insider information

"We have around 150 reindeer in the herd and Christmas is a busy time of year for us – 45 are trained to pull the sleigh and are taking part in parades around the country. This weekend you can see them in Edinburgh, Congleton and Banff. At the end of the season all our reindeer go back to the mountains where they belong." – Tilly Smith, owner of The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd (cairngormreindeer.co.uk)