Things to do in Essex: 6 festive activities to do before Christmas 2021

Father Christmas and an elf outside Hylands House

The team at Hylands Estate are getting in the festive spirit - Credit: Hylands Estate

Looking for things to do with the family in Essex before Christmas? Check out these events and sprinkle some festive magic 

December 19 

Christmas Open Day and Craft Market 

Hylands Estate, Chelmsford, CM2 8WQ

On December 19, Hylands Estate in Chelmsford will open its doors free of charge to reveal the secrets of its history. You can enjoy this month’s Weddings and Royalty exhibition and browse the house at your leisure. For a more in-depth experience, you can join a free guided tour at 11am, which is lead by the house’s knowledgeable team. While you’re there, drop in for some last-minute gifts and festive treats at the Farmers’ and Craft Market. Located both outside the house and inside the Grand Pavilion, the market is a treasure trove of local food and drink and crafts direct from the makers – think Christmas wreaths, mulled wine and sweet treats! 

December 18 

Handel’s Messiah  

Most Read

Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden, CB11 4UH

Saffron Hall in Saffron Walden will be filled with the beautiful sound of Handel’s Messiah on December 18 at 7.30pm. Composed in 1741, it has a special place in many people’s hearts over the Christmas period, and perhaps more so after a year without the triumphant Hallelujah chorus ringing out. Britten Sinfonia orchestra will provide an intimate performance, alongside rising-star soloists such as Jess Dandy, who featured in this year's First Night of the Proms. They’ll all be joined by conductor David Watkin and the Choir of Jesus College, Cambridge. 

Up to January 2 

Panto time 

Cliffs Pavilion, Southend, SS0 7RA

You shall go to the ball this Christmas as the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend welcomes the King of Panto, Brian Conley, to the cast of its retelling of Cinderella. Families will watch as Cinderella transforms from rags to riches, outwits the Ugly Sisters and, with the help of her Fairy Godmother, wins the heart of the dashing Prince Charming. Playing Cinderella’s friend, Buttons, Brian Conley returns to the Cliffs Pavilion after playing Robinson Crusoe here in 2016 and breaking all box office records. Audiences can expect plenty of music, dance, laughter and audience participation. Performances are between December 13 and January 2, and there will be a relaxed performance on December 31 at 11am for anyone who would benefit from a calmer environment. 

December 4 and December 18 

Christmas Street Market 

Braintree town centre, CM7 1RB 

Held from 9am to 3.30pm, the Braintree Christmas Street Market is back for 2021. You’ll find more than 50 stalls lining the town centre, all packed with a range of goodies from handmade jewellery to festive decorations. Hungry? There will be plenty of stalls selling gourmet street food and mulled wine. 

December 21 

Woodland wreath-making 

High Woods Country Park, Colchester, CO4 5JR 

Head to the woods for a morning of fun while making winter wreaths from natural materials found in the woodland. Suitable for ages 4+, the outdoor event is £5.50 for children and free for adults; it must be booked in advance. 

Up until December 23 

German Market and Christmas Fair 

Meadow Croft Garden Centre, Battlesbridge, SS11 7QU 

This German market hosts more than 30 stalls brimming with yuletide gifts, ornaments, candles, authentic cuckoo clocks and traditional fare. Every year, the Meadow Croft team travels to Germany to source products for an authentic experience.