18 of the best things to do in Essex in December

Santa holding a bag full ofchristmas gifts. He is sitting in his animated grotto. Horizontal image.

Santa holding a bag full ofchristmas gifts. He is sitting in his animated grotto. Horizontal image. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Lockdown has been lifted and Essex is in Tier 2 - hurrah! Check out our pick of the best things to do in Essex in December

Editor’s Note: These events were all due to go ahead as of 1 December 2020, but please double check with the venue before booking or travelling to an event in case there have been changes in line with the latest governent guidance.

1. Nightflix Drive-In Cinema, Colchester 2-24 December Catch some classic Christmas movies from your car at Nightflix's spectacular drive-in movie experience in Colchester. Located at the old Sainsbury's site, Nightflix offers Covid-safe festive entertainment for all the family. Films scheduled for 2020 include Elf, Paddington, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, A Star Is Born, The Greatest Showman, Rocketman, The Grinch, Bridget Jones' Diary, The Muppets Christmas Carol, The Polar Express and more. Tickets are £29 plus £1.95 booking fee per vehicle.  The Old Sainsburys Site, Tollgate West, Tollgate, Colchester CO3 8RG; nightflix.co.uk

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2. Christmas Allsorts at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch 11 December-3 January Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a theatre experience and Essex theatres really need support right now. So how about Christmas Allsorts? This year’s alternative seasonal special from the Queen’s is a delightfully traditional family variety show, wrapped up in tinsel - think music, dance and comedy, all made in Hornchurch especially for you. The glamorous and brightly coloured selection box of a show will include yuletide tunes from films and musicals, as well as your favourite festive pop, alongside classic and new sketches. Tickets £6.50-£26.50. Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, Billet Lane RM11 1QT; 01708 443333; queens-theatre.co.uk

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3. Christmas Shopping Weekend at Marks Hall Estate, Coggeshall 4-6 December Wrap up warm for the Christmas Shopping Weekend at Marks Hall Estate, where we can help you to find unique, handmade and eco-friendly gifts and stock up on festive goodies with exclusive membership and gift voucher offers. Get into the Christmas spirit with locally sourced artisan food and drink, and pick up bunches of mistletoe grown on the estate. Once you’re done with shopping, relax in the Orchard Kitchen café with a mulled wine and magical music. Admission is free for the market, but normal admission charges apply for the Arboretum and Woodland Walks. 10am-5pm. Marks Hall Estate, Marks Hall Road, Coggeshall CO6 1TG; 01376 563796; markshall.org.uk

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4. Foyer Jazz at Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden 4 December Enjoy a beautiful evening listening to talented jazz singer Juliet Kelly as she salutes Nina Simone. Lending her velvet voice to the songs you love, this is a very personal tribute from one jazz legend to another. This is a rescheduled event from April and has not been sold with socially distanced seating. The seating layout, programme and date of this event are subject to change dependent on government guidelines. 8pm. Tickets from £13.50. Saffron Hall, Audley End Road, Saffron Walden CB11 4UH; saffronhall.com

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5. Treasure Island: Our Christmas Alternative 4 December-3 January It might not be able to bring you its annual pantomime, however The Harlow Playhouse is trying its best to entertain its audiences safely this Christmas in its specially designed Social Distancing Auditorium! Show your support for the arts and jump aboard the Jolly Roger for this swashbuckling, socially-distanced adventure! From £29 for two seats. Harlow Playhouse, Playhouse Square, Harlow CM20 1LS 01279 431945; harlowplayhouse.co.uk

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6. Breakfast and Story time with Santa at Thurrock Hotel 5, 12 & 19 December Join Thurrock Hotel for a magical morning with Santa on Saturdays in December. This is an event for the whole family to enjoy together and make memories. Santa has made some time to visit the hotel for a spot of breakfast, where he will be chatting to the children and reading classic Christmas stories. From 8am. Tickets are £12 for adults and £8 children. Bookings are essential and must be made in advance with full payment. Email functions@thurrockhotel.co.uk to book. More here. Thurrock Hotel, Ship Lane, Aveley, Thurrock RM19 1YN; thurrockhotel.co.uk

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7. Wreath Making at Fingringhoe Wick Nature Discovery Park, Colchester 12 December Weave your own wreath from willow and decorate with natural materials. You will have your own area to work in and a vast selection of items available to decorate your wreath with. Sessions will be held outside in order to be Covid-secure, so please dress appropriately and take your own gardening gloves and pair of secateurs. Advance booking essential. Tickets £25. 10am-11.30am and 1pm-2.30pm. Meet outside the visitor centre on arrival. Fingringhoe Wick Visitor Centre, South Green Road, Colchester CO5 7DN; 01206 729678; https://www.essexwt.org.uk/events/2020-12-12-fingringhoe-wreath-making

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8. Magic of Christmas at Cochester Zoo 14-24 December Colchester Zoo is going all out to make sure you have a Christmas to remember this year. There will be lots of fun activities throughout the day, including a Christmas Road Train and The Merry and Bright Trail. Also, will you be able to spot Santa as you explore Colchester Zoo? This year he will be helping the Animal Care Team with the animals. Tickets from £16.99 for adults and £15.29 for kids. Colchester Zoo, Maldon Road, Heckfordbridge, Colchester CO3 0SL; colchester-zoo.com

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9. Stained Glass Christmas Decoration Workshop, Chelmsford Various dates Want to learn a new skill? Mona Marnell is hosting Christmas decoration workshops post-lockdown, in reduced classes of two-to-three students. Create a stained-glass decoration to treasure or as a gift to a loved one. Mona will provide a range of Christmas stained glass patterns for you to choose from, plus teach you how to cut, copper foil and solder glass to make your own beautiful heirloom glass decorations. You are advised to wear old clothes or bring an apron, as working with glass is fun but messy. Tickets £90. Hylands House, The Stables Chelmsford CM2 8WQ; monamarnellglass.co.uk

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10. Aladdin at Witham Public Hall, Witham 18-28 December The Essex Theatre Company returns with its 12th annual Panto and, against all odds, the cast of 16 players have spent many weeks online in groups putting the show together for you. Following strict social distancing guidelines, this year’s family panto will be a traditional, yet brand new, Aladdin. It aims to bring you much-needed laughter into everyone’s life this Christmas. Admission: Adults £15, concessions £12, family ticket £48. Witham Public Hall, Collingwood Road, Witham CM8 2DY; 01245 360821; withampublichall.co.uk

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11. Festive Steam Days at East Anglian Railway Museum, Colchester Saturdays & Sundays in December Following lockdown, EARM's Festive Steam days return for the first three weekends of December. Not only will there be steam rides, but diesel too, pulling a mixture of carriages and wagons. The newly opened Miniature Railway, which has been relocated behind the Thompson Building, will also be running. Your ticket will include a hot drink and mince pie or carton on juice and festive treat for the younger ones. Platform 2 cafe will still be open for drinks, snacks, cakes and light lunches, and you’ll be able to wander in the Heritage Centre, let the little ones loose in the playground and check out the working restoration shed. Two sessions per day will run: 10am-1pm and 1pm-4pm. Adults £12, kids (2-17) £8. East Anglian Railway Museum, Chappel Station, Wakes Colne, Colchester CO6 2DS; 01206 242524; earm.co.uk

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12. Cinderella Drive-In Panto by Mercury Theatre, Colchester 19-20 December Enjoy this unique drive-in viewing of the charming pantomime Cinderella, filmed in front of the Mercury live audience of over 800 people in 2019 and presented by Popcorn Movies! Set in an idyllic countryside location just off the A12 (J29 at the Ardleigh Crown Interchange), this drive-in pantomime also offers a festoon-lit field full of vendors selling hot chocolate, fresh warm doughnuts and mulled wine. You can either stay in your car or set up camping chairs (bundle up!) in your 6×5m viewing bay. The panto will be screened on a 100sq m LED screen, with sound transmitted to your car's FM radio. There will also be speakers dotted around the field for those who want to watch out in the elements. You can also watch the panto online on 19 December for £6. Tickets are £35. Ardleigh Showground, Old Ipswich Road, Colchester C07 7QR; mercurytheatre.co.uk

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13. Belfairs Nature Discovery Christmas Special, Leigh on Sea  21 December Looking for some fun outdoor adventure for your little one? The Belfairs Nature Discovery Centre is offering drop-off days for children aged five to 11 years old, in small, isolated groups to explore the beautiful Belfairs woods. The programme is led by an experienced Forest School leader which aims to help build confidence, enhance self-esteem and develop social skills. 9am to 4pm. Admission: £25 per child. Belfairs Nature Discovery Centre, Eastwood Road North, Leigh on Sea SS9 4LR; essexwt.org.uk

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14. Father Christmas Experience, Barleylands Farm Until 24 December Barleylands Farm has pulled out all of the stops this year to make sure you and your children have a great time this Christmas. They will give you the opportunity to meet elves, Mrs Claus and of course Father Christmas himself, in his cosy grotto, ready to find out if you have been naughty or nice. But the fun doesn’t have to stop there. Head to the farm park to enjoy its usual daily activities. Admission: Prices vary. Barleylands Farm, Barleylands Road, Billericay CM11 2UD; barleylands.co.uk

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15. Christmas Adventure Quest at Audley End House, Saffron Walden 26 December-3 January Dress up warmly and get out into the beautiful surroundings of this much-loved country house. Discover lots of fun facts and untold stories where history took place. Hunt for clues and QR codes to find out all about what happened. Once you have completed the quest, there’s a yummy hot chocolate and some mulled wine for the adults. 10am to 4pm. Admission: Prices vary. Audley End House and Gardens London Road, Saffron Walden CB11 4JF; 0370 333 1181; english-heritage.org.uk

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16. Sleeping Beauty at The Civic Theatre, Chelmsford 4 December-3 January Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a pantomine. Brought to The Civic Theatre by One From The Heart, this magical show arrives in Essex with beguiling storybook sets, bewitching song and dance routines, beautiful costumes and plenty of audience participation. Enjoy a lovely family day out for all. Tickets £24 (Family Ticket £78). The Civic Theatre, Fairfield Road, Chelmsford CM1 1JG; chelmsford.gov.uk/theatres

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17. Glow at RHS Hyde Hall, Chelmsford Until 3 January As dusk falls, be prepared to be blown away as twinkling lights bring the garden to life for the very first time and what a treat is in store for you. RHS Hyde Hall is hosting a Christmas spectacular where the magic begins from the moment you arrive. Walk via a winding route through a selection of favourite garden areas, where lights in the trees and shrubs will enlighten you. There will also be Christmas shopping opportunities in the Shop and Plant Centre. 5pm to 8.30pm. Admission: From £6.95. RHS Hyde Hall, Creephedge Lane, Chelmsford CM3 8ET; 01245 402019; rhs.org.uk

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18. Mark Titchner: Some Questions about Colchester at Colchester Town Centre Until 1 March Turner Prize nominee artist Mark Titchner has produced a new series of public artworks across Colchester, which are placed in the windows of vacant shop units around the town centre. This follows on from Mark‘s exhibition at Firstsite, Some Questions About Us. To produce these works, Mark asked Colchester residents to consider the issues that they find most significant in the town today and to share them with him in the form of a question. Free. Colchester Town Centre; firstsite.uk

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