Review: Father Christmas at York Castle Museum 2019

We all know that York is one of the most festive places in the country, but there’s one corner of the city that’s more Christmassy than most, and that’s Kirkgate, York Castle Museum’s recreated Victorian Street. I’ve been visiting it at Christmas since I was little, and it’s now become a favourite festive tradition for my children too. No surprise then that we jumped at the invitation to head down to check out this year’s Christmas offering at the museum.

A Dickensian Christmas on Kirkgate

York Castle Museum Christmas

Decked out in garlands and with a huge, glittering tree adorned with traditional decorations, Kirkgate is a joy to behold. There’s a Dickensian Christmas theme to proceedings this year, and we were lucky enough to be treated to the fabulous one-man performance of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol on the cobbles. We’ve watched it many times before but the novelty hasn’t worn off: with laughter, sadness and audience participation on the cobbles, it’s fabulous. There was more entertainment, too, in the form of a Christmas-themed Punch & Judy show, as well as various Dickens characters making a nuisance of themselves along the street. It’s a uniquely immersive experience that really brings Victorian York to life, and there’s nothing quite like it.

Meeting Father Christmas

Another character who isn’t a Dickens creation but does feature at the Castle Museum this Christmas is St Nicholas himself. The new format for the Audience with Father Christmas means that families don’t need to queue or manage impatient children (bonus). Instead there are five 30-minute time slots throughout the day (weekends only, plus 23rd & 24th December), three of which can be booked online. We’d always recommend booking if you can, just to take the jeopardy out of the day!

Our Audience with Father Christmas experience began at the admission desk where each of the children was given a special Father Christmas ticket. We went straight through to the schoolroom – home of the Father Christmas experience – where the kids exchanged their ticket for a paper stocking and pencil. They then had to decide what they’d like to find under the tree on Christmas morning and write it on their stocking and hold onto it until later.

York Castle Museum Christmas

The schoolroom had been transformed into a cosy Victorian living room, complete with atmospheric lighting and a fireplace big enough for….guess who! We took our seats (on the floor actually – we’d recommend arriving early for a seat!) before being treated to a charming and funny performance by talented York actor and writer, Richard Kay and with a special guest appearance from St Nicholas himself. Arriving with a big ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’, he was jolly, friendly and utterly convincing.

The show centres around everyone’s favourite festive poem, The Night Before Christmas. During the performance, each of the children had hung up their stockings with care. Father Christmas then handed them back one-by-one with a jovial Merry Christmas and a special gift to take home. No spoilers, but we thought the gift was lovely – a little token of a special festive family experience that can be hung on the tree (at least that’s what we’ve done with ours), rather than a toy that might not last the year.

There was the chance to have photos with Father Christmas too (taken with your own phone, rather than a professional one that you’d need to pay for), and the chance to have a chat with him if you’d like, but no pressure. This was ideal for our children who love the idea of seeing Santa but are too star-struck when they meet him to actually talk to him! The whole event felt like a great improvement on last year, with no crowds or queues: a short but very sweet experience with lots of attention to detail that’s completely in keeping with the Victorian theme. Combined with a visit to Kirkgate, it’s hard to think of a more Christmassy family experience in York.

An Audience with Father Christmas takes place every weekend until 22nd December, and the 23rd and 24th December 2019 at 10.30am, 11.30am, 12.30pm, 2.30pm and 3.30pm. Online bookings available for the 10.30am, 11.30am and 2.30pm sessions. It costs £8.50 per child plus museum admission; adults need to pay normal admission to the museum. Visit York Castle Museum’s website for more details

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