Like so many York families, a trip to York Castle Museum has been a part of our festivities for as long as I can remember, as a child myself and now with my own children. This year, as with so many things, I’d written off our annual Christmas visit as yet another casualty of 2020. Imagine our delight, then, to discover that York Museums Trust had found a way to open their doors during December. After a delayed opening thanks to lockdown 2.0, A Christmas Spectacular on Kirkgate is now in full swing and I took along our youngest (six) to check it out.
This year, the traditional (Little Vikings Award-winning) Father Christmas experience has been replaced by something different and a little more Covid-safe: a 35-minute immersive Christmas experience on Kirkgate, the Castle Museum’s famous recreated Victorian street. We arrived just before our allotted time slot (tickets must be pre-booked; you know the drill by now) and had a safety briefing from a costumed Victorian before being led onto the cobbles.
This is Kirkgate as we’ve never seen it before, covered in a smattering of snow and with twinkling Christmas trees. Festive music played gently in the background and Victorian characters strolled around as though they were about to pop into one of the shops to purchase a pipe or fancy hat. Unfortunately, the shops that are usually open to look around were closed for reasons of social distancing (even the sweet shop, much to my daughter’s dismay), but there was still plenty to see: we enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere and looking at the window displays, debating what we’d buy if we were on a Victorian shopping spree. The famous Kirkgate horse was a big hit as always, getting a lot of love and attention from all the younger visitors.
But for us, the highlight of the experience was sitting on the cobbles and watching the characters from the Nutcracker being projected across the wall. Ballerinas, soldiers, mice and Christmas decorations appeared in front of us, like a giant, colourful kaleidoscope with a Christmas twist, all to a classical festive soundtrack. Around 15 minutes in all, it was long enough to keep the children’s attention (who were all very quiet, aside from the odd ‘wow’ and ‘ooh!’.
It can be hard to extract children when they’re having fun, but the promise of a little something to take home did the trick. We went home with a key to leave out to make sure that Father Christmas can get into the house to leave the presents – we wouldn’t want to take a risk on that, after all.
It was lovely to be back at the Castle Museum for another Christmas, and we’re so happy that they’re able to welcome back visitors (even if that doesn’t include the big bearded one in red). A Christmas Spectacular on Kirkgate is a gentle, heartwarming festive experience that should appeal to everyone. And whether or not you manage to get one of the limited tickets still available, don’t miss the magical tree of light just outside the museum. Covered in a kilometre of LED lights, it’s a sight to behold: Christmas spirit guaranteed.