A shining star – York is top of the tree when it comes to Christmas fun

York is top of the tree when it comes to Christmas, as Jo Haywood discovers on her quest for festive fun

Christmas starts early in York. While the summer tourists are still jostling for the best shot of the Shambles and gawping with unabashed awe at the Minster, work is already well underway on a host of different festive activities in the city.

York really comes into its own in the winter, with the darker nights and frosty mornings suiting its Dickensian character. And there’s a distinct Victorian flavour to a lot of its festivities too, whether it’s carol singing in the Castle Museum, the Magic Hatter’s Christmas Party at the Grand Opera House, the Winter Wonderland at the National Railway Museum or the ever popular St Nicholas Fayre.

And then, of course, there are the shopping opportunities. Visitors to the city spent somewhere in the region of �50 million over the Christmas period last year and will have the chance to do so again this year at the Children’s Christmas Fayre (November 18th to 21st); International Fayre (December 1st to 19th); Made in Yorkshire Christmas Market (December 2nd to 12th); Christmas Farmers’ Market (December 21st); and the array of independent boutique stores.

So what are the other cultural highlights of the coming season?

York’s creative, bohemian Quarter will be home once again to the enchanting Festival of Angels (December 11th and 12th; www.yorkfestivals.com), a winter wonderland of ice sculptures, snow, stalls, food and drink that brings the magic and excitement of childhood Christmases back into frosty focus.

York Early Music Christmas Festival – a popular way to start the season – takes place at the National Centre for Early Music (www.ncem.co.uk) from December 2nd to 11th, with performances by Yorkshire Bach Choir, Ensemble Meridiana and Fagiolini among many others.

Guided tours will be led around the lord mayor’s lovely home, York Mansion House – fully tinseled up for the festive season – and children will be invited to post a letter to Father Christmas in a special Lapland Letterbox from November 25th to December 11th (www.york.gov.uk).

Lord and Lady Snawsell and their fictitious family will be welcoming visitors to their homely townhouse (otherwise known as the historic Barley Hall) on December 9th for tales, music and entertainment from a medieval Christmas (www.barleyhall.org.uk).

York Musical Theatre Company (www.jrtheatre.co.uk) will be hosting What the Dickens?, an intimate evening of Christmas entertainment in the glorious setting of the state room at the Mansion House on December 16th and 17th. There will be tales from the great novelist’s life and songs from musicals based on his stories.

There will be an entire Winter Wonderland on offer at the National Railway Museum (www.nrm.org.uk) on November 27th with an indoor ice rink and a giant human snow dome (no, we’re not quite sure what that is either, but it sounds like fun).

See how the Georgians decorated their homes for the festive season with evergreens, swags, garlands and kissing boughs at Fairfax House (www.fairfaxhouse.co.uk) as part of its The Keeping of Christmas event from November 27th to December 31st. Food historian Ivan Day has also created a special dish of brawn for the occasion if you’re feeling peckish on your way round.

The Castle Museum’s famous Victorian street Kirkgate (www.yorkcastle museum.org.uk) will be alive with the spirit of Christmas from November 25th to December 24th with a full festive banquet in the Jacobean Room, more traditional decorations than you can shake a holly twig at, twilight carols and vendors flogging their wares.

York Minster’s prestigious and hugely popular Christmas Carol Concert takes place on December 10th,but by the time you read this it will probably have already sold out. The box office opened at 9.30am on September 15th and in previous years tickets for the nave have been snapped up in minutes. There is still time though to get yourself some tickets for one of the Carols by Candlelight concerts by the Chapter House Choir on December 16th, 17th and 18th. Tickets go on sale at 8am on December 4th (please form an orderly queue).

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a good panto (oh, yes it would) and York offers double the fun with Jack and the Beanstalk at the Theatre Royal (www.yorktheatre royal.co.uk) from December 9th to January 29th, starring the oft imitated but rarely bettered Berwick Kaler, and Cinderella at the Grand Opera House (www.grandoperahouseyork.org.uk) from December 10th to January 2nd.

See? When it comes to the festive season, York really is a Christmas cracker.

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