There’s an absolute feast of festive events and places to shop throughout Essex in the run-up to Christmas Day. From unique hand-made gifts to fun for all the family, there’s something to delight excited kids and even the most Scrooge-like of relatives.

1. Green-fingered folks will love the Christmas-themed events at RHS Garden Hyde Hall. The Christmas Sparkle Gift Fair (Saturday 5th – Sunday 6th December) is a weekend-long treat in which you’ll find unique and unusual presents for friends and family.

Not only that, the horticultural haven has attracted the big fella himself, Santa, to come along between Friday 4th and Sunday 6th December to tell children a very special story that’s never been told before.

Helped by his elf, the fun continues with a sparkly Glitter & Glue workshop. The Santa and Story costs just £6 per child. Booking is essential, please call 0203 176 5830. The Art and Craft workshop is £2 per child. For more information, visit

2. The Minories Galleries, located on East Hill in Colchester, will host the fabulous Mary Lu Vintage Pop-Up Shop on Wednesday 25th November. Preceding the Minories Christmas Market (28th to 29th November), Mary Lu are two highly talented textiles artists and lecturers at Colchester School of Art, Mary Ratcliffe and Lucy Tiffney.

Bringing their unique styling and eye for a gem, they’ll be showing their exciting collections of vintage, retro and modern fashion as well as customised and recycled accessories and home wares, unique kitsch gifts, art work, and lots more. Expect a cheeky tot of sherry and their usual warm and friendly welcome. More at

3. Running from 27th November to 31st December, the Christmas Spirit Exhibition at The Saffron Walden Gallery offers a respite from works dos and frantic shopping.

This seasonal exhibition has distinctly yuletide feel and the Gallery invites you to visit late one afternoon and enjoy the spectacle of the building from the outside, with its fabulous illuminated windows, emanating a glow of festive warmth.

4. Arguably one of the most nostalgia-based events of the holiday season is A Christmas to Remember (Thursday 26th November), at Colchester’s Alderman Blaxhill School.

Featuring appearances from treasured childhood toys, family-favourite Disney characters and a whole host of awesome super heroes, plus a magical Christmas concert situated in New York's Rockefeller Centre, A Christmas To Remember recreates some of the best-loved hits of artists such as Bruno Mars, The Script, Kelly Clarkson, Michael Buble, Happy Feet and Shrek.

You'll be singing for days! For tickets and more information, visit

5. Get ready to jingle all the way at Barleylands and enjoy a fun-packed adventure at the Farm Park.

From the 1st to 24th December the family can muck-in with extra Christmas activities, including meeting Father Christmas, climbing inside a giant snow globe, making crafts and watching Snowflake, the beautiful Snowy Owl, fly around the barn.

For prices and information, click on

6. How many times have you heard ‘Oh, they did things differently back then.’? Well, here’s your chance to see and experience just how the Victorians celebrated Christmas.

The Family Victorian Weekend at Finchingfield Guildhall offers you the chance to travel back in time and see Charles Dickens deliver one of his famous readings in the library, pick a present from the bran tub, go on a Dickens-themed treasure hunt and sample authentic food and drink from the era that made Britain truly great.

7. Giving a gift with a real difference always makes you and the recipient feel special. Find yours at Saffron Walden’s Christmas Gift Fair (Friday 4th to Sunday 6th December).

Local artisans and makers will be displaying a range of seasonal, handmade goods, in the historic Town Hall.

For opening times plus details of late-night shopping and entertainment go to

8. Southend’s iconic pier plays host to a Christmas Craft Fair inside the Royal Pavilion.

On Sunday 6th December take the train or enjoy a bracing walk along the world’s longest pleasure pier to discover a wonderful selection of handmade crafts, gifts and seasonal produce. Further details are available here

9. All aboard the Santa Special at Epping and Ongar Railway.

The popular Santa Specials are back for more fun on the rails on 5th, 6th, 12th, 13th, 19th, 20th, 22nd, 23rd and 24th December.

The magic begins as you climb aboard a vintage bus, which then transports you from either Epping or Ongar to North Weald station, where the Santa Special train departs. Here, adults can relax over a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie, with the kids nibbling on chocolate and sipping fruit juice.

When the station master blows his whistle, the train will chuff and puff along the tracks while Santa and his elves make their way down the carriages dispensing good cheer and goodies for all the boys and girls. There will also be live music to add to the atmosphere and a magician to entertain the children whilst they await their journey. And don’t forget to take an elfie with Father Christmas and his chums. For tickets, times and availability visit

10. The Brightlingsea Christmas Tree Festival (12th and 13th December) has to be one of the quaintest and cutest celebrations anywhere.

Visitors will find scores of brightly illuminated and wonderfully decorated Christmas trees accompanied by live Christmas music throughout the day. A Christmas shop, pantry, homemade cake stall, hot chestnuts, mulled wine and free children’s quiz add to the jollity of this amazing annual event.

11. As the song goes, Christmas is for children. So for parents with children under-five years old, the Pre-school: Christmas is Coming event at Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge in Epping Forest will be essential.

Chock full with festive rhymes and storytelling, in a beautiful, historic building, this promises to be a magical hour for little ones.

Tickets are priced at £4.95 per child with light refreshments included. Children must be accompanied by an adult and babes in arms go free. For more information, visit

12. For older youngsters (7+) the Christmas Claymation workshop in Colchester’s Signals Media Arts Centre is a brilliant opportunity to get creative and hands-on with state-of-the-art technology.

Using plasticine and stop-motion software this will be sure to kick-start their imagination whilst parents finish their Christmas shopping. Details can be found at

13. Maintaining his frantically busy schedule, Father Christmas will be appearing at Cressing Temple Barns on 5th, 6th, 12th, 13th, 19th and 20th December.

You'll have a chance to meet Santa’s real reindeer friends and see the mad scientist elf mix the special potion that makes them fly! You can also see the actual gift-wrapping machine Father Christmas uses for all the world’s little girls’ and boys’ presents and give his elves a hand sorting some of the toys. Your little ones will also be able to choose a special gift to take home with them, before playing Christmas games in the garden.

Priced at £10 per child, including gift, and accompanying adult, with £2 per extra grown-up, you can order tickets via

  • To discover more ideas and inspiration go to