From formatives to formals

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Whether you’re a fresher wondering what there is to do in Durham for Christmas, or a finalist looking to break up the monotony of dissertation work, we’ve put together a list of the top things to do in this city during Christmas time (we’ll ignore that it’s still November for now…).

Read Palatinate’s Christmas edition

  • Congratulations – if you’re reading this, you’re already ahead of the game! Now, make sure to read it cover to cover to see how else you can get into the festive spirit in Durham this year. 

A College Christmas Formal Dinner

  • Formals are a crucial part of the Durham experience – getting all dressed up to enjoy a nice meal at your college, with your paper Christmas hats on, surrounded by friends and festive decorations. Make sure to rehearse ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ as this is a key tradition of every college Christmas formal that is sung after dinner. Get ready to belt out your table’s line, drink some great wine and prepare for an all-around fun time. What better way to spend an evening? 

College Winter ball

  • Durham wouldn’t be Durham without its balls. So, if it hasn’t happened already for your college or societies, make sure to get a Winter Ball ticket! Whether you go for the dinner or entertainment-only tickets, strap on your best ball gown, get ready to be suited and booted and prepare to dance the night away to round off the festive season and Michaelmas term. 

Durham Christmas Festival 

  • From 1st-3rd December every year, Palace Green is taken over by a huge marquee, home to a huge variety of arts and crafts vendors. So, combined with Durham Market Hall and the Festive Outdoor Market in Market Square, you’ll be sure to get all your Christmas shopping list done in no time – after all, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas if it weren’t for those panicked last-minute purchases!  

College Pantomime

  • Whether you’re staring in it, part of the behind-the-scenes action, watching your friends, or there for the college camaraderie, pantos are one of the highlights of the festive season. Filled with hilarious scenes, memorable performances and of course, singing the college song, this is one event of the festive season that is not to miss! 

Christmas Carol Service in Durham Cathedral 

  • Make sure you book your tickets ahead of time to nab some good seats for the annual Christmas Carol Service in the historical Durham Cathedral. This is a wonderful night of carol singing, Christmas readings and listening to some wonderful choirs too.  

Secret Santa

  • A more student-friendly alternative to buying all your friends Christmas presents, this Christmas classic is a fun and social way to ensure everyone gets a great gift. Set a budget for you and your friends, pick names and let the fun begin. Just make sure not to be that person to forget to buy a gift! 

Cook a Christmas Dinner

  • This is the perfect activity to do with your friends before the end of term, or for those of you who stay in Durham over the holidays. It may also be a more budget-friendly and relaxed option compared to a college formal or ball. To avoid the stress all falling on one person, divide the dishes up and have each person showcase their culinary skills by bringing a contribution to the dinner. The pots can all be put in the middle of the room and you can have a buffet-style Christmas dinner, complete with crackers and mulled wine. Make sure to leave the turkey to the Gordon Ramsay of the household, and if it all goes awry, you can always have an Italian-inspired Christmas dinner at Spags. 

Explore the Christmas lights

  • As Lumiere has shown us, Durham’s Christmas lights promise to showcase a spectacle for one and all. Get ready to be mesmerised by the twinkling lights that highlight the beauty of Durham, truly showcasing the sentiment of “all things merry and bright”. Oh, and if you’re still in Durham, don’t miss the Cathedral’s giant Christmas tree getting lit up on the 10th of December too! 

Volunteer or Donate

  • While Christmas is famously a time of excessive food and presents, take some time this Winter to consider some of those perhaps less fortunate than ourselves, and give back to the local community. The County Durham Foodbank is always looking for volunteers to distribute food parcels, or you can take part in campaigns like the Salvation Army’s Christmas Appeal and donate toys to children who may not otherwise get any presents this year.  

Watch cheesy Christmas films

  • The Gala Theatre is playing a number of classic Christmas films during December, including It’s a Wonderful Life, Home Alone, Die Hard and Elf. With tickets being only £5 each, you’ve got no excuse! Alternatively, get settled in for a cosy night on the sofa – make sure to get your hands on some Baileys hot chocolates, mulled wine and candy canes for some festive-themed treats to indulge on as you watch! 

Christmas-themed club night 

  • Grab your best Christmas jumper and make your way to Jimmy’s to round off Michaelmas for the final time. Embracing the cheesy tunes and getting your hands on a Woodgate is a fast-track way to get into the festive spirit. After all, ‘tis the season to be jolly.

But, to fully enjoy everything on this list, do make sure you’ve finished your formatives and work for the term, to feel fully immersed in the Christmas spirit! Although we may feel like the Grinch whilst doing so, we can finally feel the excitement of Cindy Lou Who when we’re done!


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