Winning tip: Load up the rucksacks, Cumbria
Our local Christmas walk is an amble up Arnside Knott, to meet our friends and neighbours, rucksacks laden with bubbly and nibbles. Hopefully someone brings a guitar to add to the cheer. The spectacular views over Morecambe Bay, the Lakes and the Dales from this modest hill, which is maintained by the National Trust, provide the most fabulous backdrop to start the day. Then it’s back down to one of the secret bars that appeared during the past couple of years for a cheeky drink or two before heading back home.
Lapping up the atmosphere at Silverstone, Northants
Everyone was safe in their cars, they had a dedicated radio station that played Christmas music on the trip and you could even get a shout out to your family if you tweeted them. The lights were great and the boys loved the idea we were driving along the Hamilton Straight. It proved a great family event that Covid didn’t spoil. We have booked again this year and they have introduced food and a skating rink. There was a shout-out to dressed-up cars so a great fun event for all the family.
Advent calendar walk
A family tradition, keenly anticipated by visiting grandchildren, is a different advent calendar walk every Christmas Eve, often from our front door. The preparation is worth the effort. We choose a route in advance, take 24 pictures on our phone of things to spot (decorations, post box, holly bush, park bench etc) then print them off as thumbnail pics. Each child has a copy, and ticks them off as they find them. An added incentive? We end with an image of a treat to be enjoyed “in real time” – for example, superb mince pies from a local market stall.
Royal finery, Brighton
The Royal Pavilion gets decked out in its Christmas finery at this time of year, and I love seeing how the banquet hall might have looked back in the Prince Regent’s day. When you come out, you’ll see the ice rink in the gardens – though I prefer grabbing a mulled wine and watching from the sidelines.
Flowers and music, east London
Columbia Road is famed for its Sunday flower market, but it also has Christmas openings on Wednesdays (next one 22 Dec) until 9pm with choirs and a brass quintet. There’s an amazing collection of independent shops where you can shop for gifts and enjoy a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie. You can even pick up Christmas trees and plants from a handful of stalls, and head to one of the delicious local restaurants afterwards. It’s got a lovely festive, neighbourhood atmosphere.
Bracing beach walk, East Sussex
Every New Year’s Day we drive to Camber Sands to walk along the huge beach with its dunes and vast skies and to grab a hot chocolate at the KitKat cafe. We aren’t alone – there are usually hundreds of dog walkers, people on horseback and kiters. It’s a great time for blowing away the cobwebs and doing something together as a family.
Ice and lights, east London
Our Christmas tradition is a big family ice skating trip and this year’s outing did not disappoint. Set against the sparkling skyline of Canary Wharf, we whizzed around the ice for an hour, the kids holding on to their rented penguin skating aids. The roof, lined with thousands of twinkling lights, keeps the weather at bay and makes this the perfect activity for a rainy day. If you don’t fancy skating, you can grab a rink-side seat and a mulled wine at the OffPiste Bar next door.
Christmas on the cliffs, North Yorkshire
On Christmas Day the family meet at the top of the cliffs and walk down the steep steps to beautiful Cayton Bay, between Filey and Scarborough. On the beach the kids look for fossils and peek into the deserted pillboxes. We gather dry sticks and seaweed and light a fire. Because it’s Christmas we share a bottle of fizz. If we are really lucky we might see a seal.
Street football, north London
Every year (but not 2020 for obvious reasons), I organise a street football match. For two weeks before, I leaflet all the cars and houses to make sure that our little street in Camden will be completely empty of cars. On Christmas morning the empty street sounds echoey. Then the raucous fun starts: one match for adults, one match for the children, with lots of spectators. Afterwards there’s a tipple available. It all works up a wonderful appetite for lunch. This year we will be collecting for the local food bank.
Stand outside your house and peer in
On Christmas Eve, we light candles in all our rooms, open the curtains and peep inside from the street. It’s called House by Candlelight and doesn’t involve any travel or spending extra money. First we sing a carol outside the duck shed (they ask for it every year!) and then venture back indoors, visiting each room as if we are burglars but we don’t steal anything. We spin stories about the “family who must live here”. Seeing the everyday by candlelight makes us love where we live and feel grateful, rather than the envy and dissatisfaction that can come from visiting other places.