We’ve been thrown plenty of curveballs this year, but we’re not a nation of quitters: a recent YouGov survey showed that 47 per cent of us believe Christmas has never been more important. And while in previous years the festive period might have signalled a break from our virtual lives and respite from bothersome blue screens, in 2020 it’s hardly a surprise that much of the festive action has migrated online.
But even the hardened Zoom-quiz cynics among you may be interested to hear there’s some real festive fun to be had digitally. From Durham Cathedral’s super-atmospheric Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols and The Royal Opera’s Christmas Concert to director and panto dame Peter Duncan’s classic Jack and the Beanstalk and The Old Vic’s live performances of A Christmas Carol, check out our guide to a very merry virtual Christmas…
WASSAILING OVER THE WI-FI
If there was ever a way to pep up the mood in a matter of minutes, it’s a good old hearty sing-a-long. Ethereal church choirs, star-studded charity concerts, uber-relaxed couch session – they’re all here
Macmillan’s ‘Follow the Stars’ carol concert
Get ready to fill the pipes as the cancer charity Macmillan hosts one of the biggest virtual carol concerts this year, beamed directly into your living room from the candlelit surrounds of Oxford’s 12th-century architectural gem, Christ Church Cathedral. Spot famous faces including Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons, along with performances from Alexander Armstrong, Sinéad Cusack and national treasure Stephen Fry among the line-up. Feelings of warmth and fuzziness guaranteed, though that could also be the mulled wine – there’s got to be some perks of forgoing the church pew, after all.
When: 11 December, 8pm (available to stream until 31 December)
The Sofa Singers’ Christmas sessions
Choir group the Sofa Singers’ tagline ‘Life is better when we’re singing together’ would perhaps have seemed a tad corny this time last year, but right now it’s the tonic we all need. First conceived to help tackle global lockdown isolation, the singing group now boasts hundreds of members, dotted across the world, all coming together from the comfort of their own homes in (mostly) sweet harmony. So if you like the idea of ‘singing as if no one’s listening’, join their free bi-weekly festive sessions and siphon off some much-needed yuletide cheer.
When: 8, 15 and 22 December, 7.30pm; 11 and 18 December, 11am
Alzheimer’s Society’s virtual Christmas carols
Bafta award-winner Carey Mulligan is hosting the Alzheimer’s Society virtual carols later in the month, along with fellow actors Lesley Manville and Jonathan Pryce, who’ll do a special reading of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas. Expect all your favourite choral hits, sung for a worthy cause.
When: 17 December, 6.30pm
Durham Cathedral’s festival of nine lessons and carols
If you’re after more of a traditional church service, sans celebs, then opt for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at the Unesco World Heritage site of Durham Cathedral. Angelic sounds, courtesy of the cathedral’s choir, reverberating in the Romanesque surrounds will leave you on a high.
When: 22 December, 6pm
Nothing like making Christmas treats to get you in the spirit
Learn how to make edible gifts
If you’ve bored yourself silly with lockdown banana bread, then luxury biscuit boutique Biscuiteers’ Zoom Christmas icing workshop is a great alternative. Now is your moment to perfect those edible holiday presents – including charming The Snowman versions – at home and finally impress the in-laws.
When: 9, 16 and 23 December, 11am–1pm; classes are £85 (includes kit)
Kids’ christmas cooking made easy
The Christmas break might look worryingly long for parents who are fast running out of ways to keep their children occupied, but there is still a roster of free online classes to ensure they’re not sitting idle. Shuffle them into the kitchen, on to their next culinary project – baking moreish festive white chocolate and cranberry Christmas cookies with Waitrose cookery school – and breathe a long sigh of relief.
When: 21 and 23 December, 10am; free
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
Staying in really is the new going out
The Old Vic’s A Christmas Carol
This unmissable live performance of Charles Dickens’ enduring classic has been adapted by writer Jack Thorne (of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child fame) for the Old Vic. The full-scale performance sees The Walking Dead star Andrew Lincoln take on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, along with musicians and an 18-strong cast, streamed into your living room – nothing bah humbug about that.
When: 12–24 December; tickets from £10-£65
The Royal Opera’s Christmas concert
No other time in history, perhaps, would dress code permit enjoying a Royal Opera performance in a pair of old pyjamas and dog-eaten slippers. But as its annual Christmas concert goes virtual, we’d be foolish not to pick our victories. This year’s online festivities include all your fairy-tale operatic faves like Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, along with Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas, brought directly to you for intimate and instant merriment.
When: 18 December, 7pm; tickets £10
Pantos for kids, small (and big)
Pantomimes are a pivotal part of the Christmas celebrations (oh yes, they are), and thankfully home-viewing options are here, courtesy of director and 1980s Blue Peter legend (and panto dame) Peter Duncan, who’s filmed a bespoke, socially- distanced version of Jack and the Beanstalk in his sizeable South London garden.
When: From now until 10 January 2021; tickets from £20
Father Christmas 2.0
Most of us can probably recall the tantalising moment of discovering a handwritten letter from Father Christmas awaiting us on Christmas morning. For today’s generation, however, an ‘elfie’ or a personalised video message sent directly from the big man is de rigueur. So, even though it looks likely many children will have to forgo the chance to meet Mr Claus IRL this year, this way, at least, they can still experience part of the festive magic.
There are a few options for parents and grandparents to choose from – the Portable North Pole app, which allows you to upload pictures and details of the individual for a tailored Christmas film, while santasgrotto.live gives families an HD video call with Santa – chat Christmas wishes, naughty and nice lists to your child’s heart’s content – or until you’ve used up all your call time.
MAKE YOUR OWN WITH A CHRISTMAS MASTERCLASS
A sure-fire way to up the Christmas ante this year is to go overboard with the decor
Grace & Thorn
Brighten up your doorstep for all those socially-distanced callers, with a bespoke wreath you have handmade yourself. Nab tips from the experts – Hackney-based florists Grace & Thorn will provide you with all the necessary bits to create a DIY masterpiece, and share their trade secrets over a how-to Zoom.
When: 9 December, 7pm–9pm; class is £95 (includes kit)
Sourcing British-grown flowers plucked from its own cutting garden in Cheshire, artisan florist Fierce Blooms will guide you in creating your own wild-garden-style Christmas garland and tablescape using home-grown seasonal blooms. As well as a step-by-step demonstration, there will also be advice on what varieties to grow to use for your own seasonal ingredients.
When: 8 and 9 December, 9.30am or 7.30pm; classes are £35
Using foliage grown in its wild botanic Wakehurst gardens, including evergreen sprigs, pine cones and holly berries, Kew hosts a step-by-step tutorial, exploring wreath traditions, where to find natural materials and how to make your own Christmas wreath, streamable on its YouTube channel for free. Grab a mulled cider and go at your own pace.
When: from 5 December
PARTY IN (NOT ON)
With many of us still having to work from home, the annual do is almost certainly going to be one of the many corona casualties. For fun alternatives, kick off celebrations with virtual festive cocktail-making classes from Chelsea-based cocktail bar GOAT (then line stomachs with a three-course Wellbox Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, delivered direct to all the worker bees).
For those with slightly loftier ambitions, try virtual cheese-tasting workshops from The Cheese Bar or wine-tasting with South West Wine School’s Susy Atkins. After all, with a decent Wi-Fi connection, there’s little escaping the enforced fun, so you might as well embrace it.
Sort the stocking fillers
No need to brave the Christmas crush on the streets, there’s heaps of at-home fun to be had with Bath and Edinburgh’s virtual Christmas markets. For lovers of local, hunt down unique gifts from smaller sellers at Oxford’s online Christmas market or try @solocraftfair Instagram Stories’ virtual night market every Monday (7pm). Or check out @diyartmarket for independent ceramics (6 and 13 Dec, from 8am) and art (5 and 12 Dec, from 8am).
FUN FOR THE FAMILY
Immersive murder mysteries
Where do you turn when you’ve exhausted table talk, but can already predict every single question on the well-worn Trivial Pursuit card? Try your luck with a murder mystery; this festive online take on the typical whodunnit sees up to 12 players unleash their inner Poirot to help save Christmas. Solve the conundrum of the immersive Runaway Rudolph game and watch your family squirm.
Where: online here; from £69
Love it or hate it, karaoke can be a leveller. And you don’t necessarily have to skip your place at the mic this year as the Smule singing app offers a great at-home alternative. With all your favourite renditions, you can opt to sing a solo or team up for a duet or a group session – just grab a mulled wine for a bit of Dutch courage and get ready to channel your inner Mariah.
GAMES YOU CAN PLAY OVER ZOOM
Because there’s more to life than home-made quizzes, says Peter Jenkinson
Free bingo cards and number generators can be found all over the internet – take your pick. Study the bingo slang for added fun, from ‘legs 11’ to ‘top of the shop 90’, and adopt your own 1980s game-show voice to inject even more merriment.
Fill your Pants
This is a hilarious scavenger hunt-style game where players race around the house collecting random things described on the game cards. Once said items have been located, they are stuffed into giant pants (included) which you wear over clothing. Remote players will need to improvise their own pants. First back to their place with the items in situ wins. £16.99
Turn any room in your house into an escape room with this new Trapped series. Each household involved will need a copy of the same game and it is a bit more complex than our other ‘at-home online plays’, but well worth the effort. Set up your rooms, tune in online and compete to see who can complete the game in the quickest time. Turn up the sound, solve puzzles loudly and crack the clues the quickest. £10, Argos
The aim of the game is to avoid being blown-up by a kitten. Obviously. One of the best-funded Kickstarter titles of all time has created Quarantined Kittens for virtual game nights. You’ll all need your own pack of the Exploding Kitten cards to play this feline-based Russian roulette game. Just set out your decks as illustrated on the website and get shouty and animated as you try to avoid going BOOM. £19.99
Last but not least…
If you need a little help kick-starting the festivities, then some DIY seasonal tipples should do nicely. And no, we’re not talking about that big batch of lukewarm mulled wine… Learn how to create your own uber-stylish Christmassy cocktail with The Telegraph’s handy online masterclass led by expert mixologist Joe Schofield. Work the cocktail shaker, garner best bartender practice and whip up favourites including Eggnog and the French 75 – cheers to that!
When: 10 December, 7pm; subscribers go free