5 Lake District Christmas traditions

The Lake District is home to some of the most beautiful, quintessentially English villages and towns in Britain and is a wonder to visit over Christmas.

In the north, the glut of festive lights of Keswick gives out a merry signal; the welcoming warmth of Grasmere in the central Lake District draws visitors together in top-class eateries and cosy traditional pubs; and the car-free hamlet of Hawkshead is like stepping back in time to a joyous episode of The Muppets Christmas Carol!

Mountain peaks are covered in powdery snow, native deer wonder vast country estates and Victorian steam vessels glide across tranquil lakes, ferrying passengers between festivities. The Lake District at Christmas is full of charm, magic, and wonder.

We look at 5 festive traditions that are very much still at the heart of a Lake District Christmas.

1. Carol singing

On a dark, wintry night the merriment from one particularly idyllic Lake District gastro pub can be heard. During December, the Masons Arms, tucked at the foot of Cartmel Fell, hosts traditional carol singing around the Christmas tree followed by a hotpot supper. This typically English Christmas tradition continues in pubs across the region and shows no signs of fading. Expect some audience participation at the Swinside Inn where the Fallen Angels Choir will be singing classic carols.

For an even livelier sing-song, the streets of the north Lake District market town of Keswick come alive for a Christmas Eve community carol singing service. The jolly sound of Christmas carols can be heard at many of the Lake District’s traditional Christmas Fayres too, such as the Hawskhead Christmas Fair & Beer Festival.

Let traditional English folk carols like Boars Head, the Gloucestershire Wassail and Gaudete as well as singalongs that kids will love like Deck the Halls, We Three Kings, Good King Wenceslas and of course Jingle Bells get you in the festive spirit.

Christmas is also great time of year to enjoy some of the Lake District’s world-class choirs, including the Lakes Gospel Choir, Ambleside Choral Society and the Keswick Choral Society. From the world-famous Theatre by the Lake and ever-growing Keswick Jazz Festival to the Lakeland Sinfonia, there’s lot in the Lake District to get feet tapping this winter.

2. Lavish feasts

The Lake District is famed as a foodie destination, such is the proliferation of artisan producers, award-winning regional wares and Michelin dining based around a source-to-plate concept celebrating the region’s top harvests. And what better time of year to enjoy this than Christmas.

For world-class dining the ‘Yellow Earl’s’ 19th century stately manor house, Holbeck Ghyll overlooking lake Windermere, will impress. Storrs Hall, Armathwaite Hall, the Laura Ashley Hotel, the swanky Michelin-starred Samling restaurant on Windermere or the hidden Forest Side upmarket gentleman’s retreat in Grasmere are top Lake District restaurants for this festive season.

Seasonal menu’s include a veritable feast of Lakeland lamb, salt baked celeriac, smoked potato, charred onions, cured salmon and brown shrimp, followed by the likes of orange panna cotta or a selection of British cheeses. All washed down with a delightful Sauvignon Blanc and 10-year-old Broadbent Maderia – heaven!

3. Christingle Services

Traditional English advent services take place on the four Sunday’s before Christmas in churches across the Lake District. The Keswick Parish church at the heart of the welcoming Keswick community hosts a beautiful Christingle service on Christmas eve as well as a carol service by candlelight on the 3rd Advent Sunday.

Many Lake District churches start the celebrations of the birth of Jesus with a Midnight Mass, based on the tradition that Jesus was born at night and worshipers return home to a warming mince pie and mulled wine.

Famous English poet, William Wordsworth and his family attended the parish church of Grasmere, Rydal and Langdale in Grasmere. Wordsworth also had connections to St Michael and All Angels Church, Hawkshead (as pictured) where he attended the Grammar school. In St Andrew’s Church, Coniston rest the bodies of eminent writer and art critic John Ruskin and artist W.G. Collingwood. These are beautiful church’s to visit anytime of the year, but are particularly special during advent and Christmas.

4. Wintry walk

The Lake District landscape arose from a violent geological past, but on a wintry day it is a dreamy wonderland of snowy white mountains, crunchy frosted woodlands and ice-covered tarns and waterfalls. With the beautiful low light that comes with this time of year, getting out on a winter’s walk is a Boxing and New Year’s Day tradition that most Brits never fail to miss.

Guided winter walks up the sharp summit of England’s highest peak, Scafell Pike in the remote Wasdale valley must be one of the best ways to celebrate this winter wonderland.

An ascent up Helvellyn from Striding Edge is another tricky climb that is best climbed with assistance during wintry weather conditions. Brave winter walkers in this stunning part of the Lake District are rewarded with dramatic views and often a frozen Red Tarn. From the old English meaning ‘steep place’, the Stickles and tarns in the Langdale Valley also make for great wintry walks and there’s plenty of low-level rambling here too,  so you can enjoy this epic valley in safety. Smaller peaks that offer impactful views include Brantfell, as shown in this picture and Loughrigg from Ambleside.

Walking poles are valuable winter walking equipment, as well as trail boots and a coat designed for four seasons, as you can often get this when walking in the Lakes. Don’t forget a charged mobile, to check the weather and to return in daylight, when walking in winter.

5. Hot toddy

After enjoying a few hours outdoors, return for a warming ‘hot toddy’ is just the tonic. Or so it is in the Lake District!

The ‘hot toddy’ is a Scottish-invented cocktail consisting of bourbon, honey, hot water and lemon and was invented in the 1700s and was said to have medicinal, cold-fighting benefits. Spices such as cloves and nutmeg were often included, making this a very seasonal tipple that is still enjoyed today. We recommend a slice local beekeeper honeycomb for an extra health kick.

Other warming winter drinks that are traditionally enjoyed during this festive period are Eggnog to welcome in the New Year, a 13th century drink enjoyed by English monks, or a creamy Irish Coffee where you can mix up the cream, whiskey and coffee ratio’s to your tasting! To sample some of the finest Lake District festive spirits, we’d recommend a visit to the award-winning Lakes Distillery in the beautiful Bassenthwaite region. We love their Boozy Baubles too!

For ale drinkers, a visit to the impressive Beer Hall at Hawkshead Brewery, just outside Windermere, is blissful any time of year but for Christmas try their 4.5% cask and bottled Jingle Bells – a perfect mix of smoke and spice flavourings.

Cheers and Merry Christmas from the Lake District!

Paul Liddell is the Managing Director at Lakelovers.

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