Christmas might be a bit different this year, but there’s still plenty of seasonal stuff for families to see, do and watch -- from Christmas illuminations to socially distanced stage shows.
We’ll update this article with any new developments we hear about over the coming weeks.
What Are The Rules On Socialising this Christmas?
From 3 December, new rules on mixing with other households come into effect in England. London and much of the south-east will be in Tier 2, which means you can’t mix indoors with other households, but you can meet in gardens and public places. Kent, most of the Midlands and the North are in Tier 3, which limits things to public outdoor meetups only. Shops will be open in all tiers. The current plan is to relax these rules over a five-day Christmas period (23-27 December), in which people from any Tier can meet with up to two other households. The rules come with more detail and nuance, so read our guide for more information.
What Shows Can We Go And See?
The pandemic cast a question mark over the panto season, but with London in Tier 2, it looks like shows will now be going ahead at half capacity. Shows now booking include the popular “Potted Panto”, which sees seven pantomimes rolled into one, a staged musical of A Christmas Carol, and an abridged version of The Nutcracker. Find our complete list here, and book tickets now.
Where Can We See Christmas Lights?
Christmas displays are a lot more muted this year, for obvious reasons. The big switch-on events were all cancelled to avoid attracting crowds. But that doesn’t mean the illuminations aren’t there. If you’re able to get into central London, there’s plenty to feast your eyes upon. Carnaby Street’s usually bombastic display is this year replaced with neon words of inspiration, like “hope”, “wish” and “hero”. Regent Street and Oxford Street have their usual overhead illuminations, while Covent Garden goes for a traditional look, with one of the best trees around. The King’s Cross area has quite a collection, with a pink tree adorning St Pancras station, and a whopping “terrarium tree” in Coal Drops Yard. Meanwhile, the famous Trafalgar Square tree has arrived from Norway, and should be up beside Nelson’s Column in the first week of December.
How Can We Do Our Christmas Shopping?
From 3 December, all non-essential shops will be allowed to reopen in England, following a national lockdown. That means your options for Christmas shopping are the same as ever -- although expect more queueing to allow for social distancing. We’ve put together a how-to guide that offers helpful tips on the various ways of buying Christmas gifts. You might also browse Kidadl’s many gift guides, from buying Lego or Star Wars toys, through to eco-friendly Christmas gifts.
Are Any Santa’s Grottos Opening?
It is still possible to meet Santa in person -- whatever Tier you live in -- though the grotto experience will be very different this year. Expect face masks, hand wash, social distancing, and definitely no sitting on Santa’s lap. We’ve heard tell of a few grottos around London, including at London Zoo and Greenwich Market.
What About Museums?
With the end of lockdown, many of the UK’s museums and galleries in Tiers 1 and 2 will be reopening for December. Quite a few of those will be putting on Christmas activities for families. London Transport Museum, for example, will have a special exhibition of seasonal travel posters, as well as socially distanced appearances from Santa. Check your local museums for details.
What Family Christmas Films Are Streaming?
While we all wait for the Doctor Who Christmas special, the streaming services have plenty of seasonal family films on offer, as well as some brand new movies to settle into. Pick of this year’s new offerings have to be the all-star Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, and fun-packed sequel The Christmas Chronicles 2 (Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn as Mr and Mrs Santa). We’ve got the full ho-ho-lowdown on all the best films streaming this Christmas.
If you’d rather try something a bit more exciting, treat the family to a seasonal drive-in film. The Drive-In in north London has a dozen Christmas films lined up, and we currently have 50% off ticket price.
What’s On Terrestrial TV For Kids?
The full Christmas schedule on the terrestrial channels is packed with stuff for kids, so we’ll only mention a few highlights. The now traditional adaptation of a Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler book continues, with an animated version of Zog and the Flying Doctors on BBC1. Watch out also for a documentary about Donaldson, called The Gruffalo and Me, screening on BBC2. Channel 4 has its own animated tale, with an adaptation of Quentin Blake’s Clown, narrated by Helena Bonham Carter.
It’s been a long wait for new Doctor Who, but Jodie Whittaker and her crew will return for a Christmas special (along with the long-absent Captain Jack) for another go at the Daleks. Worzel Gummidge is also back, with Mackenzie Crook reprising the role originally made famous by former Doctor Who, John Pertwee.
Will We Get A White Christmas?
It’s 10 years since the last proper white Christmas in the UK, but the chances might be better this year. The MET Office is predicting a colder December than average, and bookmakers currently have the odds of Christmas snow at 7/1. So, you never know!
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.