Christmas crackers in Surrey & Hampshire

Karen Neville

Pumpkin Pantos

December 25th is hurtling towards us faster than a child can unwrap their presents but there’s plenty to wrap yourself up in before the ‘big day’ with events to enjoy, markets to plunder, food and drink to tuck into and not forgetting Santa to visit…

Are you hanging up your stocking on the wall? Ok, perhaps a bit too soon but in the words of Noddy Holder ‘It’s Christmas’ and there’s so much to do before it’s stocking time.

Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a bit of sparkle so how about starting off the season with a stunning light trail. Follow dazzling displays around RHS Wisley’s iconic sights through Seven Acres, the Rock Garden and Wisteria Walk and marvel at trees and shrubs bathed in a rainbow of light at Glow 2023 until January 2nd. Nearby Windsor Great Park Illuminated is back for its third year with installations featuring artistic projections and floodlit fountains. Go on an adventure surrounded by mythical creatures and dancing fairies. Also until January 2nd. Glow Wild returns at Wakehurst, celebrating its 10th anniversary with a new route and fresh installations. Enchanting winter lanterns and captivating light creations illuminate the gardens. Booking essential for all light trails.

The Christmas trail at Polesden Lacey takes you through familiar fairy tales, complete with a map and book to write your adventure. Ride the traditional gallopers in front of the house and meet elves and a tricky dragon. Booking advised for Santa visit and carousel rides. Enjoy a Nutcracker Christmas at Nymans where you’ll find glittering Christmas trees, colourful decorations, scenes inspired by the classic Christmas tale and giant Nutcracker soldiers. In the house discover ‘The Land of Sweets’ while a garden trail takes families on a voyage through this magical world.

Take a magical journey in to Narnia this Christmas with a visit to Hatchlands Park. In the house, enjoy the warmth and sparkle of a 1940s Christmas before stepping through the wardrobe to discover an enchanting world. Outside, enjoy the family parkland trail inspired by CS Lewis’s beloved story, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Petworth is every colour of the rainbow with show stopping trees and decorations bringing the house and collections to life. Watch out for mice hiding among the desserts in the historic kitchens! The Makers Market runs on December 2nd and 3rd and if you’re visiting over a weekend be prepared to give your vocal chords some exercise with choirs performing in the courtyard.

Join Uppark House this festive season to discover towering Christmas trees covered with twinkling lights and traditional decorations. The mansion’s enchanting rooms are filled with scents and scenes of the season. From glittering baubles to handmade paper decorations, experience an ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ Christmas in this Georgian home.

Father Christmas has filled his sleigh with presents, fed all the reindeer, made a list and checked it twice and is getting ready to land at West Horsley Place on selected Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays in December. The house will be decked out with festive decorations and there will be lots to see and do before and after your visit with Father Christmas including biscuit decorating and crafts. Booking essential.

Have a Gilbert White Christmas this December at Gilbert White’s House and Gardens. Starting off on December 2nd with Gilbert White’s Christmas Craft Fair, entry grants you access to the fabulous local craft fair in the barn, plus access to the beautifully decorated house and gardens for a day of traditional Christmas entertainment.

Hop aboard the Santa Express at Denbies for a ride through the vineyards with a special passport from Santa, play the Reindeer game and take home a gift at the end of your ride. Early booking advised. www.denbies.co.uk/fc-events/santa-express

Climb aboard the Rosebud boat and take a gentle cruise along the Basingstoke Canal to the start of the tinsel trail in the woods at Mytchett to find Father Christmas in his grotto and receive a gift. You’ll then cruise back to Basingstoke Canal Centre and head into Santa’s Workshop for Christmas colouring activities, warm drinks and mince pies. Cruises available until December 23rd.

Join Santa aboard the Swingbridge Tranquillity broadbeam boat this Christmas (December 2nd to 21st) for a gentle family cruise along the River Wey. The boat will depart from Millmead Island, Guildford in search of Santa. Look for clues along the towpath as you pass by to find out where he’s hiding.

The animal barn at Chobham Adventure Farm will be magically transformed into The Reindeer Lodge, where Santa’s real reindeer including Rudolph will be staying while they get ready for the big day! Meet the Elves and The Reindeer Keeper and upgrade your ticket to meet Father Christmas where you’ll wander through the snow trail before choosing a gift in his Toy Workshop. Finish the day ice skating.

What better place can there be for a spot of skating than the grounds of Henry VIII’s former home, Hampton Court Palace. Wrap up warm, get together with your friends or family and take in the magnificent views of the beautiful Tudor palace as you glide around on the outdoor ice rink, open until January 7th.

Experience the Christmas story in a unique way as you walk with Mary, Joseph and the donkey on the winding road to Bethlehem with fellow travellers, Roman soldiers and shepherds for The Wintershall Nativity. Enter the stable and watch the miracle unfold bringing the true meaning of Christmas to life for the whole family. December 16th, 17th & 18th. Book at www.wintershall.org.uk/nativity-journey-0

There’s nothing like a bit of sparkle and magic at this time of year and the Watercress Line Steam Illuminations delivers. The incredible light show on and in a steam train is made up of thousands of coloured LED lights and LED wristbands to create a kaleidoscope of different colours and flashing patterns making the steam train look magical both inside and out!

This Christmas, West Green House Gardens in Hook again present their hugely popular light spectacular with giant dancing fountains and a mile-long trail around the illuminated lake, narrating the tale of Alice in Wonderland. The Five Bridges transform into light tunnels with creatures below, and the Paradise Garden becomes the flamingo’s croquet lawn.

Join Marwell Zoo for an immersive light extravaganza that will see the majestic grounds turned into a twinkling wonderland full of fairy lights, magic, and delight with more than 250,000 LED bulbs making up their wonderful illuminations you can marvel at while you can toast marshmallows around cosy firepits.

The Glimmering Gardens return to Chawton House. Enjoy the beautiful decorations in the House and then explore the Gardens as they come to life in twinkling lights and spot the woodland creatures that call Chawton House home from December 16th to New Year’s Day.

Take a Christmas journey to the North Pole at Mottisfont until January 7th and find luxuriously decorated trees, piles of colourfully wrapped presents, extravagant floral displays created by Mother Christmas and Father Christmas’s study piled high with letters. Board the Christmas Express into the North Pole for the polar bear’s ball and become an honorary elf on the family activity trail helping to deliver Christmas wishes.

Experience a Neverland Christmas at Hinton Ampner this winter, with a sprinkle of fairy dust on the Christmas trees. Step into the home of the Darling family and Nana the dog, where light, sound and movement bring scenes inspired by JM Barrie’s much-loved story of Peter Pan to life. Outside, the adventure continues – to the Wendy House, the Mermaids’ Lagoon and Nana’s dog house, where your pooch can pose for pics. A Neverland Christmas which runs until New Year’s Day is presented in partnership with Great Ormond Street Hospital. Booking essential.

The Vyne invites you to follow Clara and the Nutcracker as they fight the evil Mouse King on indoor and outdoor trails. Look out for plucky gingerbread men, pirouetting snowflakes and a bounteous banquet in the Land of Sweets as you explore the opulently decorated ground floor of the house. Enjoy the magical tale through to January 1st.

Step into Santa’s workshop, dress as an elf and look out for the naughty elves hiding throughout Winchester City Mill. Two twinkling trees frame the door and a crafted Christmas tree has garlands full of items found and made in nature through December.

One of the best places to shop for unique gifts is Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market (until December 21st). Recognised as one of the best in Europe, the bustling lively atmosphere, stunning location and high quality products make this a ‘must visit’. Festive lighting, carols and mulled wine abound amid the wooden chalets inspired by a traditional German Christmas market – make sure to visit band shop jewellers, painters, glass makers and textile artists selling one of a kind gifts and decorations.

From traditional to out of this world at Winchester Science Centre which is celebrating a cosmic Christmas as you blast off on a live-action immersive festive space adventure before meeting Santa and taking home a gift.

From the greatest story of them all to some very silly ones with pantos across the county. Catch EastEnder Lucy Benjamin in Cinderella at the Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford; waltz across the stage with Anton du Beke in Peter Pan at Woking New Victoria; Cinderella’s also going to the ball at Camberley Theatre and board the magic carpet with Aladdin at both Theatre Royal Windsor and with Godalming Theatre Group.

Discover Santa’s Magical Gift at the Rhoda McGaw Theatre and meet the Society for Christmas Creatures at Farnham Maltings in the company of surely the only Christmas Lobster!

Justin Fletcher, aka Mr Tumble, has written a new magical family show Santa’s on his Sleigh. Santa is just about to set off on his delivery round on Christmas Eve when he finds his sleigh has broken down, can you help him fix it before it’s too late? You may just recognise Head Elf Justy in this show at G Live, December 16th to 24th, full of singing, laughter and Christmas spirit.

Ready to boo, hiss and cheer – it’s that time of year. Pantos are back and there are plenty to enjoy including those from some of the fine amateur groups who work hard to rehearse and stage stories of slapstick and silliness for your pleasure. Among these are Pumpkin Pantos whose Beauty and the Beast gets an outing at Alton Assembly Rooms (9th and 10th) followed by Forest Community Centre in Bordon the weekend after. Dick Whittington arrives to make his fortune at the Harlington, Fleet while Cinderella is looking for her lost shoe at Theatre Royal Winchester. Over at The Anvil in Basingstoke enjoy The Further Adventures of Peter Pan: The Return of Hook. Dear Santa is the perfect introduction to theatre for children at The Haymarket where you can meet Santa afterwards. At the other end of the scale, The Phoenix Theatre, Bordon are staging an adult only panto and there’s fun for younger ones with Hansel & Gretel and Red Riding Hood.

Altogether now “I’m walking in the air…”, it must be Christmas if you can hear the sounds of The Snowman. You can join him and Wallace & Gromit who are still wearing the Wrong Trousers in the company of a live orchestra at Guildford Cathedral on 16th.

Shopping to do? Gifts to buy or just treating yourself (nothing wrong with self love) then be sure to visit Ramster Gardens Christmas market the first two weekends in December. Discover a unique collection of locally made gifts including food and drink, beauty products, art and homewares. Buy premium Christmas trees and beautiful wreaths from the Ramster Tea House where you can also enjoy mince pies and mulled wine.

Haslemere’s traditional Christmas market in the town centre offers 200 stalls of gifts and refreshments, you’re sure to find something for even the most difficult recipient here on Sunday 3rd.

There’s A Celebration of Christmas at Holy Trinity Church Guildford on December 6th when you can take part in a night of fun and warmth when the air will be filled with light and music.

Guildford Cathedral is the setting for John Rutter’s Christmas Celebration with a festival of carols and Christmas music for choir, brass, organ and audience on Saturday 9th.

Christmas with a much more relaxed elegant feel is being celebrated at Jane Austen’s House where you can enjoy an evening away from the hustle and bustle (December 2nd and 9th) and step back in time for a magical few hours discovering Christmas traditions and family pastimes with the house all dressed up for the season, complete with warming drinks and the chance to raise a toast to the much-loved author. Take a special Christmas virtual guided tour on 14th and celebrate Jane’s birthday on 16th with a virtual party.

Mulled wine and hot chocolate are on offer at Whitchurch Silk Mill as you celebrate a Victorian Silk Mill Christmas on 2nd and 3rd. The rooms are decorated to recreate the mill’s past with a seasonal make over replete with a table laid with gingerbread figures and figgy pudding – stop by and make a wish.

More nostalgia awaits amid the cobbled streets, seaside pier, teddy bears and vintage vehicles at Milestones Museum in Basingstoke. The period streets will be decorated for the season and the giant Christmas tree will give a warm, festive welcome until 23rd. Children can help Father Christmas find his lost reindeer with the special Reindeer Spotter trail, while the smell of mulled wine and the taste of mince pies will transport adults into the atmosphere of a perfect Christmas! Don’t miss the chance to meet Father Christmas from December 9th to 23rd. Booking essential.

The festive season wouldn’t be the same without glorious uplifting music so let the choirs of Winchester Cathedral entertain you on December 15th with traditional favourites, exciting new pieces and much-loved audience carols to sing along with.

Here’s a different way to mark the season, join the 5k Jingle Jog and run in festive fancy dress around Frimley Green and Frimley Lodge Park to the tune of a thousand jingle bells and if that doesn’t get you in the festive spirit nothing will! Medals, Santa hats, jingle bells (more of them), a mince pie and festive drink are included as part of your entry fee and new this year is the 2k fun run route. Run in aid of Frimley Health Charity’s Golden Christmas Appeal and help give a very special gift this Christmas.

If you’re looking for somewhere to socialise with your family and friends, or to make new friends, then head to the ‘hive of activity in the local community’ – West End Social Club in West End, Woking, (GU24 9PL). Two comfortable bars, regular live music (including Tributes), dancing, many other social and indoor sporting activities, Festivals and Seasonal events. New members and guests welcome, (bookable space for members private events). www.westendsocialclub.co.uk

There’s more to Christmas than just turkey and sometimes a change is good so how about fish from Surrey Seafood Emporium, an independent family-run business recently opened in Downing Street, Farnham, offering the freshest fish caught daily in Cornwall and Devon and brought straight to Surrey. The fantastic pre marinated and ready to cook selection are perfect for both the BBQ or in their oven bags. And if fancy a break from the kitchen, the chef there is busy on a daily basis making artisan fish pies, lobster mac ‘n’ cheese, fish cakes and many more fabulous fish dishes.

Struggling for gift ideas? Triple fff Brewery have a large selection of award winning beers in fun, festive, sustainable packaging – guaranteed to make any beer lover happy. You could also grab T shirts, caps, jackets, hoodies, gilets, glasses, Beer Growlers, subscription offers, brewery tours, bottle openers and gift vouchers!…And if you are having a party, a polypin of Brewery fresh beer is certain to go down a storm! Come and visit us in Four Marks!

Give a gift that shows how much you care this Christmas. A pain relieving muscle rub is the perfect gift for anyone looking to genuinely improve the lives of their loved ones. Soothe this season with a groundbreaking anti-inflammatory gel that got Ian Botham back on his feet. Give the gift of relief, with EthicaCBD Sports Gel, for muscles, joints, and tendons. Visit www.ethicacbd.com

Looking for Christmas gifts that show you care? Bordon-based eco family firm LittleLeaf Organic designs beautiful homeware, gifts and baby wear in the very finest certified organic cotton. Everything is made in a solar-powered Fair Trade factory, so your gifts can be eco as well as luxurious! Proud winners of the 2023 most sustainable UK small business award, www.littleleaforganic.com