From online plays and parties to light festivals and drive-in cinemas, we’ve got something for all

Christmas may look very different this year, but Santa has still come to town - to Central Library in fact, where his thousands of low-energy LEDs will be switched on this week to kickstart the festive countdown. The 2.3-tonne, 12-metre-high mascot will soon be joined by a trail of large light sculptures - in Piccadilly Gardens, St Peter’s Square and New Cathedral Street - along with the traditional crib in St Ann’s Square and a Christmas tree by the Cathedral. Lights will be turned on by three NHS heroes working on the coronavirus frontline.

2020 11 30 Council Santa
Manchester’s biggest red resident is back

Yes, the other big C may have dominated proceedings in 2020 but that doesn’t mean all festivities are cancelled. From online plays and parties to drive-in cinemas and illuminated trails, we’ve found something for everyone to enjoy this December.

Digital events

Manchester Libraries: advent calendar and gifting appeal (1st - 24th December)

Royal Exchange: All I Want for Christmas (1st - 25th December) 

Shelter carol concert (Thursday 3rd December)

Imperial War Museum: Christmas at War & Painting 1940s London (Saturday 5th December)

Contact: Virtual Forest of Forgotten Discos (Saturday 5th December)

Chill Factore: Santa Claus Calls (5th - 24th December) Chill Factore will be open for other activities  

BBC: Great Northern Christmas (send recordings by Sunday 6th December)

Action for Children: Starry Night Auction (Tuesday 8th December)

Freemasons' Hall organ concert (Wednesday 9th December)

Brainwave: Lapland Virtual Balloon Race (11th- 18th December)

John Cooper Clarke: I Wanna Be Yours at Christmas (Saturday 12th December)

53Two: Write Christmas (12th - 24th December)

United We Stream Christmas and NYE gigs (18th, 19th, 26th, 31st December)

Niamos: Letsby Avenue (20th - 23rd December) 

Escape Hunt: Charity Game Night - Santa’s Naughty List (Thursday 24th December)

Reform Radio: Xmas Extravaganza with Jenna and The G’s (Thursday 24th December) 

SocialEyes: Your Christmas Party (various; more info here)

HOME: Christmas at HOME (various)

Waterside: Humbug and Barbara Nice's Festive Party (various)

Z Arts: children’s activities (various)

Matt & Phred’s: Friday Night (Almost) Live (various)

Stoller Hall winter concert season (various)

Halle winter concert season (various)

Running Bee Foundation: Jingle Bee Jog (December) 

Invisible Cities Christmas party (December) Psst…check out their fab merch too

19 01 30 Chill Factore Snow Park 2
As well as offering a digital Santa event, Chill Factore will be open for physical lessons and activities

Physical events

Unsurprisingly, physical events are relatively scarce this December; with drive-ins and light festivals ruling the 2020 roost. However, with many hopeful that Manchester will move down to Tier 3 on 16th December, there’s plenty waiting in the wings; from Winter Island at Mayfield and Bar Hütte at Great Northern Square to shows like smash hit musical SIX at the Lowry, the Opera House’s Sleeping Beauty panto and Christmas Barrel of Laughs at Frog and Bucket. Fingers crossed… Meantime, here are some of the events definitely going ahead; all, of course, subject to social distancing and Tier 3 restrictions. NB: dates exclude Christmas Day.

Trafford Centre - Reindeer Lodge (until 24th December)

Miles Platting - Drive-Thru Santa’s Grotto (2nd - 31st December)

Trafford Centre - Parking Lot Social (3rd - 8th December)

Arndale, Halle Place - Letters to Santa (3rd - 24th December)

Heaton Park - Lightopia light and lantern festival (3rd December - 10th January)

EventCity - Christmas City drive-in cinema (4th - 31st December)

Didsbury - Winter Wonderland Walk of Light (5th December - 4th January)

MediaCity - Box on the Docks (various; Unwrapped shopping weekend 12th - 13th December) 

Selfridges - Christmas in-store events (various)

NOMA - Christmas installations (until 10th January) 

Mystery Bird (dates TBA; physical tour will be accompanied by digital stream, more info here)

2020 11 30 Christmas Postbox Arndale
Children can visit a talking Santa’s post box in the Arndale’s Halle Place


For anyone who’s not a prime internet retailer, the shopping industry is a tough one to be in right now…as attested by the demise of one high street chain after another. But it’s the indies, those without billion-pound empires or bailouts, we want to champion here: as the recent closure announcement of creative icon Magma demonstrates, they’re struggling too - and let’s face it, a retail landscape without these community treasures would look very bleak indeed. What’s more, many support local makers.

There are loads of ways to find independents near you, from Indie Retail or Brothers & Sisters to a simple search engine check. We also recommend checking out virtual stores like Islington Mill, Victoria Baths, GNCFF, EASEL and Etsy for gift inspiration from local artists and makers; as well as hubs like Manchester Craft & Design Centre, Hatch, Afflecks, the Makers Markets and cultural venues (museums, galleries, libraries and performance). After cards? Thortful supports an array of creatives, while Levy Market has created a helpful roundup of designers to buy from direct. As for some tasty treat ideas, keep an eye out for our Confidential staff picks gift roundup coming soon.

2020 12 07 Grayson Perry Manchester Art Gallery Merch
Gifts at Manchester Art Gallery's online shop include a range inspired by its new Grayson Perry exhibition (currently on hold due to Tier 3 restrictions)
2020 12 07 Cotton On Mcr
Like getting creative - or know someone who does? Cotton On MCR is offering discounts on a different workshop each day from 7th - 18th December

With many shoppers (rightly) considering the ethics of what they buy, there are resources aplenty for that too: outlets like Ethical Consumer are packed with useful info. 

Tis of course the season for giving, and charities need help more than ever after the events of this year. As well operating physical shops, many also have web stores; simply put ‘online charity shops’ into your search engine or look up the cause you want to support directly. Online auctions are another way to help; with current fundraisers including 30 Artists Give It Up for Forever Manchester, Project 2.6, Prints for Music, Francis House’s Festival of Trees, Lifeshare's Christmas market and auction and the 50 Windows of Creativity auction on Thursday 17th December.

More around Greater Manchester

Many venues across Greater Manchester are putting on some great (mainly digital) events for all the family to enjoy this December; from plays and storytelling at Bolton Octagon and Oldham Coliseum to Christmas at Dunham Massey.

Want a break from Yuletide events? Non-festive happenings span Hope Mill Theatre’s Rent to the Better in Person short play series and Obstructions at Castlefield Gallery, which has made its exhibition available online during Tier 3 restrictions.

Check your local council website for performance venues, museums and galleries near you; plus other happenings and services in your borough. Those planning on visiting a town or city centre will also find advice on using public transport during the pandemic, with some also offering incentives like discounted parking for drivers.

Read more: ‘Little short of a pantomime’ - culture leaders react to Tier 3 announcement