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All you need to know about Essex in Christmas 2023

Snowy streets of Thaxted. Credit: Getty Images
Snowy streets of Thaxted. Credit: Getty Images

We showcase the key events taking place across Essex to get you in the festive spirit.

 

Great British Life: GLOW is a wonderful event for all the family. GLOW is a wonderful event for all the family.

Christmas 2023 in Chelmsford

Lighting Up Christmas

Following last year’s sell-out success, the magical outdoor light trail is returning to Hylands Estate in Chelmsford for its fourth consecutive year. The mile-long route winds its way through spectacular woodland and features a variety of fun, interactive elements where you can compete with your fellow visitors. Walk beneath a twinkling light tunnel, marvel at clever projections and discover a new way to enjoy the fantastic grounds of Hylands Estate. Once you’ve finished the trail, soak up some of the festive atmosphere at the refreshment stands, serving up a variety of festive fare.

Friday 24 November-Monday 1 January, 4.30pm-9pm. Prices range from £8-£17.50.

enlightenedmoments.co.uk

Winter Walk

Take a stroll around RHS Hyde Hall after dark, and you’ll see the much-loved garden areas bathed in colour as part of its annual Glow event. New for 2023, follow the trail up onto the Hilltop, stopping to see a fountain on the top pond, before heading through the Dry Garden, where you’ll see a carpet of colour, mirror balls on the lake and lanterns lighting your way.

At the Lake Cabins, enjoy take away hot food and seasonal treats, then shop for beautiful decorations and gifts in the Garden Centre.

Glow takes place from 23 November-30 December, excepting select dates. 5pm-9pm. Prices range from £4.45 to £15.95.

rhs.org.uk

Christmas Traditions

The winners of the CM1STMAS Community Awards will once again be turning on the Christmas lights in Chelmsford Town Centre. Taking place on Sunday 19 November, the annual event attracts families from all over Essex, keen to participate in the seasonal festivities. From live music and entertainers, to late-night shopping and seasonal food stalls, there’s something for all ages. The event starts at midday, with the light switch-on scheduled for 5pm. Throughout the afternoon there will be entertainment on the main stage and at other locations in Chelmsford city centre.

Sunday 19 November, free admission.

Great British Life: Markshall Estate's annual Christmas event takes places once again this December. Credit: Bryan Shaw Markshall Estate's annual Christmas event takes places once again this December. Credit: Bryan Shaw

Christmas 2023 in Coggeshall

Winter Walk

Markshall Estate’s annual Christmas Market and Open Weekend gives visitors the perfect opportunity to explore the impressive 200-acre arboretum, with free admission on Saturday and Sunday. For families, there’s a wonderful Christmas Trail that winds its way through the trees – look for 20 Christmas symbols hidden across the estate.

And if you start feeling chilly, simply head over to the multitude of festive stalls where you can warm up with a hot chocolate or mulled wine before browsing the beautifully made gifts by independent companies all over Essex.

Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 December, 10am-4pm. Admission free.

markshall.org.uk

Christmas Traditions

With a town centre that boasts nearly 200 listed buildings, many timber framed, Coggeshall is a picture-perfect setting for a festive event. Indeed, Coggeshall Christmas is always held on the first Saturday in December and, for 2023, is set to be bigger and better than ever before. This year, the market will extend to include part of Market Hill, running from where it meets Market End up to Swan Yard. Father Christmas will be in attendance to turn on the lights and there will be plenty of music to get everyone in the festive spirit.

Saturday 2 December, 12pm-6pm. Admission free.

lovecoggeshall.co.uk/Christmas

Festive Fare

Situated at Herons Farm, near Coggeshall, the award-winning Blackwells Farm Shop is open year-round and offers a butchery, deli, homemade meals, fruit and vegetables as well as cakes and gifts. For Christmas, it expands its offering to free range bronze turkeys, which roam nearby in large grass paddocks all day. With more than 40 years of experience of rearing turkeys, Blackwells are members of the Golden Turkey Quality Assurance Guarantee. Their Christmas Shop is now open and offers free range geese as well as a range of delicious festive desserts including a mouthwatering yule log.

blackwellsfarmproduce.co.uk

Great British Life: Creeksea is hosting a festive history tour this December.Creeksea is hosting a festive history tour this December.

Christmas 2023 in Maldon

Christmas Traditions

The Maldon Christmas Fayre is always a wonderful evening of entertainment and shopping. This year, a market boasting close to 100 stalls will span the high street, offering tasty treats, homemade gifts, sparkling decorations and so much more.

Youngsters will be delighted to grab a picture with their favourite characters from Frozen and Peppa Pig. That’s not forgetting Santa himself; tickets for the grotto will be available from 14 November.

The town’s Christmas lights will be switched on by Maldon Mayor, Andrew Lay, at 5pm, followed by entertainment from local musician Joanna Power, and singer and tribute act Adrian Warwick.

Thursday 30 November, 4pm-9pm. Free parking from 4pm onwards.

maldontowncouncil.gov.uk

Take the Train

One of the many delights at The Museum of Power in Langford is a ride on its miniature steam train – included in every ticket sold to the museum’s Christmas Fair on 2 and 3 December. The special event is fun for all the family, with a pre-bookable Santa’s Grotto, numerous indoor festive stalls, top-notch entertainment and children’s rides. What’s more, you can also get hands-on with the fascinating interactive displays that are housed in the 1920s Steam Pumping Station, the former generator hall and boiler house.

The Museum of Power, 2-3 December, 10am-4pm. £12 for children and £8 for adults (including Santa visit), or £5 for children and £8 for adults (without Santa visit).

museumofpower.org.uk

Historic Houses

For a festive event with a difference, how about a Christmas History Tour at Creeksea Place, near Burnham-on-Crouch in the Essex countryside?

Built in 1569, the estate has a long and chequered history, eloquently retold by the venue’s personable guide, Geoff, on his fascinating tour of the stunning Manor house. Once you’ve learnt about some of Creeksea’s secrets and heard about the legends, you’ll be treated to a luxury mince pie and an aromatic mulled wine or hot chocolate. Remember to wrap up warm and wear sensible footwear as you’ll be exploring the grounds too, including the stunning walled garden!

December 10, 12pm-1pm, £20.

creekseaplace.co.uk

Great British Life: Colchester's stunning light trail is a lovely event for all the family. Credit: The Colour Project 1 Colchester's stunning light trail is a lovely event for all the family. Credit: The Colour Project 1

Christmas 2023 in Colchester

Christmas Traditions

What could be more enchanting than visiting Santa Claus in a real-life castle?

Colchester Castle’s grotto is back for 2023 and together with his helpers, the big guy will be spreading Christmas cheer.

Taking place from December 2 to 12, the grotto is suitable for all ages, but children must be accompanied by an adult. Tickets cost £9.95 per child and booking in advance is required. Call Colchester Castle on 01206 282939.

On December 6, the Castle will also be hosting an open event from 3pm to 8.30pm where visitors can discover the Castle’s many nationally important treasures. Booking not required.

colchester.cimuseums.org.uk

Winter Walk

Enjoy a bracing and beautiful meander around Highwoods Country Park. It is a nice, varied walk, with beautiful woodland, open parkland and a stroll around the lake all packed in.

Whether you are in the mood for a quick 30-minute stroll or a two-hour hike, Highwoods County Park is the place to explore.

After all that walking you will be looking for a special place to rest your head.

Why not spend the night at lavish The George Hotel? Located on Colchester High Street for over 500 years it has always been restored to its former glory and boasts medieval cellars and beautiful beams.

suryahotels.co.uk

Something Special

It has been a historic time for Colchester, having achieved city status this year.

They plan to celebrate in style including Christmas lights, late night shopping events, Christmas events and more.

There will be the spectacular light trail in Colchester Castle Park as of December 1 which is a lovely family event with a route through Colchester's picturesque Castle Park which will be transformed into a winter wonderland.

Book in advance to secure a space and visitors can brighten those winter days with stunning illuminations.

First entry is 5pm and then there are slots every 15 minutes until 8.30pm.

visitcolchester.com

Great British Life: The Christmas lights switch-on is one of the highlights of Southend's festive calendar. Credit: Simon Murdoch The Christmas lights switch-on is one of the highlights of Southend's festive calendar. Credit: Simon Murdoch

Christmas 2023 in Southend

Something Special

As part of Southend BID’s 12 events of Christmas there is the Light up Southend’ Art Trail on display from November 20 to December 24.

There will be more than 40 artists’ work on display in 25 venues, with every piece mirroring the theme of ‘light’ in some way.

A feast for the eyes and the senses, the event will help to make Southend a beautiful Christmas setting. It is also set to highlight the tremendous artistic talent within the city.

Venues taking part include Southend Pier (the longest pier in the world) and the theme park, Adventure Island.

visitsouthend.co.uk

Christmas Shopping

Why not make the most of festive events at the two big shopping centres in the city, The Royals and The Victoria? The centres are putting on lots of events through the festive season for shoppers to enjoy.

There is also a wealth of high street stores in Southend making it a popular place for discerning Christmas shoppers.

If you are looking for more independent shops, head to surrounding areas. There are a range of boutiques in Leigh and lots of unique items at the Rayleigh Lanes indoor market as well as established shops on Hamlet Court Road in Westcliff.

royalsshoppingcentre.co.uk

Community Spirit

Community spirit is alive and kicking at the arts hub that is The IronWorks on Southend High Street.

Since opening last summer, the team have laid on a feast of events, and this Christmas is no different.

As part of their ‘community dinners’ events they are set to hold a Tudor Christmas on Saturday December 9 complete with themed music, dancing and entertainment. Tickets are £10 per person and £5 for kids.

Also at the venue on December 17 at 5pm is the Magic Dave’s Christmas event where the magician will sprinkle some more festive magic on visitors at this special time of year. Tickets start at £5.

visitsouthend.co.uk

Great British Life: Audley End hosts Santa and his elves once again this year. Credit: Audley End Miniature Railway Audley End hosts Santa and his elves once again this year. Credit: Audley End Miniature Railway

Christmas 2023 in Epping

Spectacular Shopping

Epping Christmas market brings the local businesses on the high street together for a very special festive event.

The market has it all, entertainment, food, gifts, crafts, Santa and festive fun. The Town Council also provide the Christmas lighting in the town centre including the mini trees and a large Christmas tree on the Piazza.

It is a chance to get together and buy gifts all the while having fun and joining in the festive spirit.

The Christmas Market is set to take place on Saturday December 2, from 10am to 4pm.

visiteppingforest.org

Timeless Traditions

For an extra special Christmas treat head to one of the Epping Ongar Railway Santa Specials.

The experience starts as you join the vintage London bus service at Epping Underground station. When you arrive at North Weald Station you can listen to the live brass band and meet the characters as they walk around the crowds. Families can then make their way across the footbridge to join Santa's fantastically festive Special Train, which will take visitors on a return journey via the ancient Epping Forest to Ongar.

Santa’s Special Trains run on 25 and 26 November and on 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 December at varying times.

eorailway.co.uk

Food and Drink

The cosy and stylish The George and the Dragon on the high street offers lavish interiors and a tasty festive menu will launch from November 22.

The popular gourmet destination Haywards Restaurant on Bell Common is set to have a Seasonal Tasting Menu from December 22 with five courses of seasonal ingredients and a drink on arrival, homemade bread, amuse bouche, a cheese course, pre dessert and petit fours. Paired wines, tea and coffee are available at supplement. £80 per person. On Sunday December 24 there is the Christmas Dinner Collection where the team will pre-prepare, ready to cook Christmas meals available for collection on Christmas Eve.

haywardsrestaurant.co.uk

Great British Life: Torchlight procession through Halstead. Credit: Danny Kench Torchlight procession through Halstead. Credit: Danny Kench

Christmas 2023 in Halstead

Community Fun

There’s nothing like bright light at this time of year, so head along to Halstead Public Gardens on Saturday November 25 for the town’s Christmas annual light display switch on and festive fair. Santa Claus will be visiting with sweets for the little ones and there will even be a snow machine to bring a magical ambience to the proceedings. There’s no entry fee, everyone is welcome to go along and join in the fun, which will kick off at 4.30pm. The town’s enchanting torchlight procession will also be returning on Wednesday December 6, from 7pm. This year marks the 51st year of the procession, which sees hundreds of people parade through the town with their torches, lighting up the High Street.

Something special

Christmas means panto time - oh yes it does! And if you fly down to Hedingham Castle you’ll be enchanted by Peter Pan - a Magical Pop Up Panto - which will be showing at the historic castle from December 20 -21. Featuring a crew of professional actors playing all the characters you know and love, get set for some spectacular swashbuckling and a whole host of songs to sing along to. The seated performances will be taking place within the atmospheric surroundings of the Ballroom Marquee inside the castle. Tickets £16 for adults, £12 for children. hedinghamcastle.co.uk

Timeless traditions

Meeting Santa in his grotto at Christmas is what the season is all about and it’s a good job that Marskhall Arboretum and Gardens, right next to Halsted, has this tradition all wrapped up. Visitors to the estate’s Coach House will be met by the ‘Markshall elves’ before embarking on a magical quest to discover festive games and crafts. If you listen hard enough, you just might hear the sound of sleigh bells as you enter the grotto. Winter warmers at the snack bar will be served and each child will take home a woodland toy. Cost is £20 per child, adults go free. markshall.org.uk

Great British Life: Essex Food and Drink Festival. Credit: Aztec Events Essex Food and Drink Festival. Credit: Aztec Events

Christmas 2023 in Brentwood

Spectacular shopping

Hailed as the biggest and best Christmas shopping fair in Essex, the Festive Food and Gift Show is the place to go to get all your yuletide gifts. The annual event has become a seasonal stalwart and regularly attracts visitors upwards of 10,000. The show takes place at the Brentwood Centre in Doddinghurst Road from November 4-5. The atmosphere will be magical and stallholders will be selling everything from home interiors to gadgets, gifts, toys, fragrances, decorations and arts and crafts. Of course, while you are there, you’ll be wanting to fill up on festival snacks and drinks. An alcoholic tea or a traditional mulled wine perhaps? Don’t forget that mince pie! essexfestiveshow.co.uk

Timeless traditions

It just wouldn’t be Christmas without snuggling down to watch the feelgood classic It’s a Wonderful Life now, would it? The Brentwood Theatre in Shenfield Road will be screening the 1946 Frank Capra masterpiece, starring Jimmy Stewart on December 4 at 1.30pm. The venue will also be showing an array of traditional festive films such as Home Alone on December 9, The Snowman and the Snowdog on December 9 and the ultimate seasonal musical, White Christmas starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, on Christmas Eve at 4pm. If you don’t leave the venue humming the title song you must be a Scrooge! Tickets start from £6. brentwood-theatre.co.uk

Food and drink

A festival of fun, liquid style, will flow at the Brentwood Christmas Beer Festival 2023. Along with an award-winning, tasty, refreshing array of Brentwood and Elephant School Beer to choose from, the event, on December 9, at the Brentwood Brewing Company will be packed with festive food, entertainment, carol singing and live music. Tickets are £15 per person. As well as beers to buy there will be other gifts on sale and the chance to snatch up unique gifts for the beer buff in your family. The brewery can be found on Calcott Hall Farm, Pilgrims Hatch. brentwoodbrewing.co.uk

Great British Life: Nayling Rd Braintree residents light up the street for xmas with displays and lights. Credit: Newsquest Nayling Rd Braintree residents light up the street for xmas with displays and lights. Credit: Newsquest

Christmas 2023 in Braintree

Spectacular shopping

Gift hunters won’t want to miss the Essex Christmas Shopping Fair which will run for three days from November 10 to November 12 within the picturesque setting of Cressing Temple Barns. Enjoy a huge range of stalls set within the historic barns themselves as well as inside marquees and outside stands. You can enjoy browsing, sampling and buying as well as watching cookery demonstrations and other entertainment. Entry £4, under 18s go free. You’ll also be able to pick up some festive fayre and presents at special Christmas markets set to be held in the heart of the town over the festive period.

charlieowenevents.co.uk

Something special

If you fuse an encounter with Father Christmas with a fun train ride, you’re on track for a special festive family event this season. Make a pit stop at Colne Valley Railway in Castle Hedingham during December and you’ll get to meet Santa in his grotto before climbing aboard a diesel train to collect your present from his workshop. Tickets to ride are £20 for adults and children above three. Under threes ride for £10. colnevalleyrailway.co.uk. Another unique event to enjoy is a visit to Nayling Road, Braintree where each year the streets residents transform their road into a winter wonderland full of spectacular decorations and illuminations.

Food and drink

Tuck into mouthwatering festive treats at cosy Fowler’s Farm pub in Cressing Road which will be dishing up its Christmas menu throughout December. Hand carved turkey breast with all the trimmings and Christmas tree cheesecake are among the delights on the menu. From £32.95 per person (vintageinns.co.uk). Meanwhile the double AA Rosette House By Hilly Gant restaurant in New Street will be tempting foodies with its delicious Christmas party set menu. The venue’s award-winning Lillipuds Christmas Pudding is like being served Christmas on a plate! (thehousebyhillygant.co.uk). In between shopping pop into The Coffee House Gardens in Bocking End for a seasonal drink to warm you up (coffeehousegardens.com).

Great British Life: Pick up festive gifts and treats at Saffron Walden Christmas Gift Fair. Credit: Fiona Rose Pick up festive gifts and treats at Saffron Walden Christmas Gift Fair. Credit: Fiona Rose

Christmas 2023 in Saffron Walden

Timeless Traditions

All aboard the Santa Express at Audley End Miniature Railway for a magical Christmas journey! Venture deep into the enchanted woods, meet with Mother Christmas and greet Santa who’ll have a gift for every child. Enjoy an illuminated woodland walk and create a reindeer feedbag to leave out for Rudolph. Be entertained at Holly the Christmas Fairy’s storytelling show and let off steam in the Adventure Play Area. Tasty treats and drinks will be available in the café to help guests refuel! The Christmas Special 2023 event runs from November 18 to December 24. Booking is essential. Purchase tickets at audley-end-railway.co.uk

Spectacular Shopping

Discover unique Christmas gifts, local handmade crafts and vintage items in aid of the Mayor’s Appeal at the Christmas Gift Fair taking place at Saffron Walden Town Hall from December 1 – 5. Admission is free (facebook.com/SaffronWaldenChristmasGiftFair). Late Night Shopping organised by the Saffron Walden Initiative also returns on December 1. The all-day market in the town centre features charity and market stalls that will remain open until late. From 5.30pm shoppers can enjoy seasonal entertainment, a dance in the square and sample delights from a variety of food trucks. It’s the perfect way to get into the festive spirit!

Winter walk

Take in the crisp winter air with a romp through Elmdon to Chrishall. Stunningly beautiful, it’s an idyllic setting for a family walk. The circular route will lead through the park and into the woods, eventually coming out of the forest into Chrishall. It’s then easy to head back via the same route for a less taxing stroll or to extend the walk by heading through the gorgeous racehorse stud farm – where it may even be possible to spot some foals along the jaunt – and eventually loop back to Elmdon cricket pitch. Discover more about the route at ratedtrips.com/walking/from-elmdon-to-chrishall

Great British Life: Thaxted is fantastic for Christmas shopping Credit: Newsquest Thaxted is fantastic for Christmas shopping Credit: Newsquest

Christmas 2023 in Thaxted

Spectacular Shopping

From fabulous plants to stunning homewares, sumptuous brownie boxes and striking vintage furniture, there’s something for everyone this Christmas to be found at Vintage Style Living, located in the heart of the town. Gifted Thaxted is another delightful independent shop filled with thoughtful goods and could be the perfect stop for the fussier family members on your Christmas shopping list. Stuck for ideas on what to get them? Don’t worry, as spread across the store’s five rooms, there are a plethora of items on offer, from jewellery to clothing, handbags and other ethical goods. The perfect gift awaits your discovery.

Food and Drink

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas...certainly at the Swan Hotel, whose festive feasts, available from November 21 to December 30, will have tastebuds tingling and holiday spirits soaring. Gather family and friends around the table for an evening of merriment, by booking one of their three-course set menus, featuring a host of captivating starters, heartwarming mains and decadent desserts. They’re also offering a delectable bespoke menu on Christmas Day, that’s been thoughtfully crafted to ignite the flames of festive joy and make this Christmas one to remember. Book online at greeneking.co.uk/pubs/essex/swan-hotel/christmas

Winter Walk

The eight-mile circular route from Thaxted to Sweetings Meadow Reserve is the perfect way to get blood pumping on a cool day. Starting at the free public car park on Margaret Street, it takes you past Walnut Tree Meadow, through the woods to Little Sampford, and on by Plummer Wood. Arriving at Sweetings Meadow, there’s plenty to explore across its 1.6 acres. Wander past the lake and take in the grand trunks of the meadow’s fruit trees, scanning the hedge line for nesting tawny owls and redwings. Make your return to Thaxted along the bridleway towards Sibley Green. The full route – Wildlife Walk Nine - can be found at uttlesford-wildlife.org.uk

Great British Life: Frozen lake in Norsey Woods. Credit: Getty Images, Frozen lake in Norsey Woods. Credit: Getty Images,

Christmas 2023 in Billericay

Timeless Traditions

Begin the festive season with a bang at the Billericay Christmas Market, hosted by The Rotary Club of Billericay Mayflower, on December 3 in the high street. The market will open with Santa’s Parade. Watch as he arrives in style before heading to his grotto, where children can visit him for free and receive a gift. The market itself will feature over 150 stalls, including crafts, food, clothing, gifts and a farm shop. Fairground rides, a circus troupe, a visit by Punch and Judy, and flash mobs will make this an unforgettable Christmas Palooza!

Winter Walk

Norsey Wood is made up of 175 acres of ancient woodland and is a beautiful spot to visit during the winter months. A local nature reserve, it’s teeming with wildlife, and is open to visitors all year round. Explore the sweeping branches and vast trunks of Sweet Chestnuts and look out for small flocks of Redwing, Redpoll and Siskin. On December 10, join in with a winter woodland walk filled with Christmas cheer led by Steve Prewer. The walk will be from 10am until 12pm. The event is free, and all are welcome though wellies are certainly recommended! Discover more woodland events at norseywoodsociety.uk

Food and Drink

Mouthwatering festive favourites, like braised lamb shank and slow-roasted pork belly, feature on the Christmas menus at Harry’s Bar and Restaurant, situated on Billericay’s high street. Book a three-course lunch or evening meal, and bring together friends, family and work colleagues for some well-deserved wining and dining. The Christmas menu is available from Tuesday – Thursday from November 29. Why not celebrate Christmas in style with an amazing brunch and cocktail at French Martini Bistro at 2 Western Road, Billericay, and share a toast to good health and happiness this season?



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