York prepares for its merriest Christmas yet

PUBLISHED: 00:07 12 November 2013

Ice sculptures a feature of last year

Ice sculptures a feature of last year


The festive frenzy seems to start earlier every year in the county’s capital city of Christmas with the ink barely dry on the summer postcards before season’s greetings are being popped in the post.

Visitors flock to York in their thousands over the ever-extending Christmas period (which now seems to start just after Bonfire Night and last until well after the January sales). Last year, they spent in the region of £50 million, so is it any wonder that city businesses, stores, hotels, restaurants, bars and eateries do such a serious amount of pre-festive prep?

According to Maria Florou, general manager of the Cedar Court Grand Hotel in York, preparations for Christmas 2013 actually started before the 2012 festivities ended.

‘That gives you a sense of how much work time it takes to get things absolutely right,’ she said. ‘By the time January arrives, we’ve already decided on menus and events. From then on, it’s about adding the detail – and decorations – to our plans.

‘Plus, Santa is a busy man and if you want him to drop by to meet excited children, you need to book him early before his diary fills up.’

One of the busiest places in York over the festive period is, perhaps not surprisingly, the Minster, which welcomes thousands of visitors from near and far.

‘Not only do our own services attract congregations numbering thousands, and increasing each year, but we also host many community groups and organisations who come to worship in the cathedral,’ said the Dean of York, the Very Reverend Vivienne Faull. ‘There are several carol services a week throughout December, and sometimes two or three in a day.’

The Minster’s most popular concerts of the year – its Christmas carol concerts on December 5th and 6th – are crucial fundraising events for the repair, maintenance and upkeep of the magnificent Gothic church as well as an opportunity for celebration.

‘All this is about celebrating the story of a baby born amongst strangers, cradled in an outhouse and recognised as God in our midst not by the local religious community but by those working in the fields and foreign stargazers,’ said Rev Faull.

‘This is the story York Minster shares with Christians across the world and we use all the skills of words and music and ceremony we can muster to tell it as powerfully as we can.”

The wider city is pulling out all the stops again this year in a bid to match – and preferably better – 2012’s staggering £50 windfall, with numerous markets, festivals, events and not one but three pantomimes to ramp up the festive spirit and cement its reputation as the capital of Christmas.

‘York’s festive spirit is second to none,’ said Gillian Cruddas, chief executive of Visit York. ‘There’s nowhere quite like it to shop, eat and experience Christmas at its very best.

‘York is without doubt the UK’s most Christmassy city and we look forward to offering our visitors a warm and festive welcome.’

Five family favourites

Children will be chuffed to bits if you take them to Santa’s Steam Adventure at the National Railway Museum (nrm.org.uk) throughout November and December. This year’s event is bigger and better than ever with a magical new interactive story which sees visitors young and old journeying to the North Yorkshire Pole to make sure the big chap in the red suit receives his post bag in time for Christmas.

Why not wing it to The Quarter – the warren of streets between Stonegate and Petergate – for this year’s glorious Festival of Angels (yorkfestivals.com) on December 15th and 16th when it becomes a winter wonderland of ice sculptures, stalls and street entertainment. It’s the only place in the city where a sprinkling of snow is guaranteed.

Nothing quite says Christmas like the popular Crib Service at York Minster (yorkminster.org) on Christmas Eve from noon. This is a chance for visitors to enjoy the traditional nativity story, with children encouraged to dress up (as Mary, a wise man or even a donkey if they wish) to create a ‘living crib’ during the service. There’s even been the odd Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle there in the past, but no one seemed to mind.

Fairfax House (fairfaxhouse.co.uk) is the place to be on December 21st and 22nd at 5pm for a series of Mid-winter Tales of Wonder from professional tale-teller Jenna Drury. She will be conjuring up the magic of classic Grimm’s Fairytales and reading extracts from childhood favourites like Mrs Pepperpot and Harry Potter.

The hugely heart-warming festive film Elf, starring funnyman Will Ferrell as Santa’s largest little helper, will be given a special screening at the Yorkshire Museum (ymt.org.uk) on December 5th, with mince pies, a full Christmas-themed buffet and carols beforehand. Prepare to have your ribs tickled and your heart melted.

For updates on what’s going on in York over the festive period, go to visityork.org/christmas

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