It's the season of goodwill to all men - and animals (the turkey aside). The Christmas Without Cruelty Fayre at Kensington Town Hall in London today includes a celebrity auction and the chance to win a walk- on role in The Bill. A number of items will be donated by Van Morrison, Martin Amis, Peter Gabriel and Gary Lineker. Proceeds from the auction go to Animal Aid. It kicks off at 10am and you can splurge without guilt as you stock up on cruelty-free, ethically produced and politically correct Christmas presents. Admission: pounds 1.

But for those who associate the coming of Yuletide with more wickedly gluttonous activities, it's the last day of the first International Festival of Chocolate, at the Royal Horticultural Society Halls in Greycoat Street, London. It's a chocoholic's dream, offering the chance to sample varieties of chocolate from around the world, learn about the history of chocolate, and participate in various chocolate-themed activities. You can forget about mince pies for a while and just binge. Opening hours are 10am to 6pm, tickets cost pounds 7.50 and are available on the door.

This week also sees the start of Panto Season. All over the country pantomime dames will be shaking the mothballs from their frocks and rubbing on the rouge while winsome gals start slapping their thighs and pretending to be boys. Just some of the performances to check out are: Cinderella at London's Hackney Empire from 8 December until 9 January (tel: 0181-985 2424); Peter Pan at the Wimbledon Theatre (tel: 0181-449 0048); The Princess and The Goblin at Stirling (tel: 01786 461081); Cinderella at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh (tel: 0131-529 6000) and Jack and the Beanstalk in Perth (tel: 01738 621031).

But if you fancy something even more traditional, the Royal National Theatre is reviving the medieval mystery plays to celebrate the millennium. Running from 7 December to 22 January, the three plays, The Nativity, The Passion and Doomsday tell the story from the Creation to the Last Judgement (tel: 0171-452 3000).

You can follow a shining star (or two) to Candlelight Carols at St Bride's, Fleet Street, London, on 9 December. Joining in the carols at 6.45pm will be Simon Callow, Patsy Palmer, James Wilby, Sandi Toksvig, Lesley Joseph and Sian Phillips. Proceeds go to Adfam, the UK charity for families of drug users. Tickets on the door cost pounds 9 for adults and pounds 5 for children (tel: 0171-928 8900 for more information).

And for carols al fresco, why not wrap up and wander down to London's Trafalgar Square where every night until Christmas Eve there'll be carols under the the giant Norwegian spruce between 5pm and 9pm? And New York can eat its heart out this year as Londoners too will be skating under the stars. Who needs Central Park when Trafalgar Square will be transformed into an enormous ice rink from 8 December until 27 December?

And finally, here's one for all those Cliff fans out there. You've bought the record, now you can see him play. Tennis that is. Pro-Celebrity Tennis at Birmingham NIA at 5pm on 11 December with Sir Cliff brandishing a racket and knocking a few balls around (tel: 0121-780 4444 for tickets costing between pounds 14.50 and pounds 19).

LUCY GILLMORE

Comments