Christmas: a very short introduction

The festive period is a busy time for most people in the UK, and it is often a time when people spend time with their families or close friends and eat specially prepared meals and exchange gifts. Many people celebrate Christmas as a Christian festival, and Oxford's churches will be holding concerts and services across the season. It has also become a secular cultural festival here in the UK with lots of parties, markets and carol singing.

Traditionally, the Christmas period is a time when people are encouraged to consider how they can share what they have and be more generous with people who are disadvantaged. However, it has also become a very commercial festival in the UK and the shops can get very busy around this time (especially the Westgate Centre and the Covered Market!) Be aware that public transport may be affected during this time so it is best to check this before you travel. Visit for details about UK train travel, and look at the Transport section of this website for more information about local transport. 

What’s open?

Most shops and public buildings such as museums will be open every day except Christmas Day (25th Dec) and New Years Day (1st Dec). However, many shops will have reduced opening hours on Christmas Eve (24 Dec), Boxing Day (26 Dec) and New Year's Eve (31 Dec). Remember to buy enough food before Christmas Day as many places will be closed for a few days! Most museums and art galleries will be closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Day. With all public buildings it is best to call ahead, or visit their website to find out exactly when they are open over the Christmas holidays. There are several public parks in Oxford and they are great spaces for children and adults to enjoy the winter weather (especially if it snows). 

Christmas Day: What's On


HOST links international students at UK universities with friendly approved hosts who offer an invitation to their home for a day, a weekend, or at Christmas. Visit their website to find out more.

Christmas Dinner With A Community


If you are planning to stay in Oxford over Christmas and have no particular plans, please get in touch with and we will seek to put you in touch with a host family or with a number of student groups across the Colleges who will be arranging Christmas lunches. Space is limited, so please get in touch by 12 noon on 19 December.

If you are an international student, you may wish to visit the Host UK website, or you may wish to join in the festivities at Cumberland Lodge.

You can also spend Christmas day volunteering with Oxford Christmas Lunch. Click here to find out more.

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Festive Activities

“He’s behind you!” A brief word on the pantomime

Also known as the “panto”, the pantomime is a British institution with roots in 16th-century Italian commedia dell’arte. It is a live stage performance with musical numbers, and is always comedic. The story is often a humorous modern retelling of a folk tale, with slapstick and cross-dressing additions, and raucous audience participation involving both singing and shouting. It is a very popular form of entertainment in Britain, and pantomimes are performed throughout the Christmas season. Although the humour can be fairly bawdy, it is usually somewhat veiled; pantomimes are geared towards children and their families, and make for a terrific night out. Some people consider seeing a panto to be an essential part of the Christmas season in the UK.

Pantomimes in and around Oxford during the Christmas season, 2018-19

Dick Whittington and His Cat
Oxford Playhouse
23 November 2018 - 6 January 2019

Peter Pan (Creation Theatre)
North Wall Arts Centre, Summertown
1 December 2018 - 5 January 2019

Alby the Penguin Saves Christmas
Burton Taylor Studio, Oxford
6 December 2018 - 5 January 2019

Peter Pan
Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury
7-31 December 2018

Volunteering on Christmas Day

Click here to see our page about volunteering on Christmas Day, or check Daily Info for general volunteering listings.

Build your own Christmas

In the UK many people spend Christmas Day preparing a special meal which is eaten around lunchtime. Some people go to a service in the morning and reserve opening gifts until after coming home. Others play special games and turn on the television to hear the Queen’s Speech at 3pm! In the evening people watch festive films or sit around sharing stories. This year, why not get together with other students and build your own Christmas Day, adding your own rituals and traditions from your culture! Make your own gifts or cards Save money and get creative by making your own gifts! If there are a few of you, why not try organising a ‘Secret Santa’? This is where you all get given the name of another person in the group to buy or make a gift for! You can agree to only spend a few pounds or to all make a present instead of buying one.

Non-alcoholic spiced punch

Place 1 pint orange juice in a saucepan with 1 pint apple juice, half a teaspoon of ginger and mixed spice. Take an orange and push a few cloves into the orange and place that in the mixture with a broken cinnamon stick. Simmer over a low heat for 5 minutes and serve!

Make your own traditional Christmas cracker!

Christmas crackers were first invented by a British sweet shop owner called Tom Smith in the 1840’s. They are a fun way to start or end a meal together and usually contain paper hats, jokes or small gifts! To learn how to make yours by hand visit the websites below: or

Gingerbread Christmas Decorations

Preheat your oven to Gas Mark 4 (160C) then mix 75g butter and 50g caster sugar. Add 2 egg yolks, half a teaspoon bicarbonate of soda and 50g golden syrup. Add 250g plain flour and a teaspoon ground ginger and ground cinnamon. Mix it all together. Divide the mixture into 2 balls, knead the dough and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes. Remove the dough after this time and roll it out using a rolling pin to a thickness of 1 cm. Using a cookie cutter, (or a knife!) cut out your gingerbread shapes Make a small hole at the top for a ribbon to go through. Place them on a greased baking tray and cook for 10 minutes. Be careful not to leave them hanging on the tree too long as they will go stale!