The A to Z of Christmas in Devon
PUBLISHED: 11:03 18 December 2018
Devonian traditions, events, places to visit or things to do - David Clayton takes us through the Devon festive alphabet
A Devonian tradition often and found in pubs across the county at Christmas – it’s a Devon version of a Yule log that has strong pagan links to the past. A bundle of green ash sticks with nine bands made of hazel, it is burnt on Christmas Eve. As each band breaks, a toast is celebrated with a glug of cider!
What could be better than walking off a sizeable Christmas dinner on a golden Devon beach? Storms aside, the feeling of a lively breeze on your face, soft sand beneath your feet and, if the sun makes an appearance, an aqua blue ocean and sea spray to liven you up for the evening’s festivities.
Yes, you read right – people go for a dip on Christmas Day. And not just the odd hardy soul – the annual Christmas Day swim at Exmouth beach attracts thousands of people – many in fancy dress – with many going in the sea and many more watching on from the promenade. Brrrrr!
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a Boxing Day football match and this year Torquay United host back-to-back Christmas crackers against Cornish rivals Truro City. Both teams play at Torquay’s Plainmoor, the games take place on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.
A traditional yuletide drink for Devon folk, it is a concoction of egg yolks, cider and spices and will warm up the frostiest of souls for the festivities!
F is for Family
For those living away from home due to work, university life or other reasons, there is nothing like returning to Devon for Christmas. Fresh air, green hills and the smell of the ocean, there’s nowhere quite like home – so long as it’s in Devon!
Visit Santa on the South Devon Railway aboard his very own Grotto Train. On track from December 1 to December 24, kids can meet Santa and receive a present on an unforgettable festive journey - booking is essential.
What is Christmas without a show, play or a panto? Hansel and Gretel makes the perfect family show and you can catch it at Exeter Northcott Theatre from December 22 to December 30 – don’t forget your breadcrumbs!
We can’t guarantee icicles for you, but if the temperature drops below zero, the sight of icicles handing from roofs and windowsills across the county adds a nice festive touch. A snowy walk on Dartmoor would virtually guarantee them!
The annual Jingle Bell Run at Haldon Forest at Kennford took place on December 16. With 5k or 10k options, this hilly trail is a great way to burn the pre-Christmas calories – the results can now be seen in the link above.
With dozens of grottos around the county, book the kids into see Kris Kringle (Father Christmas) and, in some cases, at least one of his reindeer. Pennywell (near Exeter) offers all the above plus nativity plays.
Newton Abbot’s Lantern Parade will certainly get you feeling Christmassy. Running every mid-December, a procession of schoolchildren with homemade lanterns head to the town centre where there is live music, street food and other entertainment with shops staying open until 8.30pm.
Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a Christmas market and Devon boasts some of the best in the country. Whether it’s the larger scale markets of Plymouth and Exeter of the weekend specials throughout December such as Bideford, there will be minced pies and mulled wine for all.
N is for New Year’s Day Fun Run
Start 2019 the way you mean to go on with an energetic (but not overly-taxing) fun run. Salcombe’s traditional New Year’s Day run is set over a hilly two-mile course which kicks off at Cliffe House. Runners are provided with hot soup and rolls on their completion.
The delightful Devon market town of Okehampton is a magical place to visit at Christmas with two large halls (Charter Hall and Paris Hall) turned into Christmas markets featuring more than 40 stalls crammed with festive treats.
Take the kids on a magical ride and meet Santa at Seaton Tramway on selected dates in November and December.
Looking for a Christmas present that is a bit different? The delightful Quince Honey Farm in South Molton has a range of honey, beeswax and skincare products and a taster hamper that costs just £25.
Wax your board and head down to Croyde, Saunton Sands or Woolacombe and surf the breakers on Christmas Day. It’s become something of a tradition for the surfing community so why not join them?
Get in the mood for the holiday season with a trip to the National Trust’s Saltram House. Decorated with the Christmases of days gone by, it is a truly magical experience that will take your breath away.
Shaldon’s traditional Boxing Day three-legged race is never less than great fun. Guaranteed to provide great entertainment for those taking part and watching, the competing three-legged couples tackle a course that basically doubles as a festive pub crawl via the village’s five inns!
U is for Under the Mistletoe
Grab a sprig from your local Christmas market or farm, hang it above your door and keep an old tradition alive.
Devon is blessed with some truly stunning villages and Christmastime is the perfect time to visit some of the county’s gems. Whether it’s a Christmas Day pint at The New Inn on Clovelly, or stroll through the pretty streets of Lympstone, you’re sure to feel festive and ready for the big day as you travel home.
An ancient fertility rite, wassailing is celebrated in Devon villages on the Twelfth Night. Gifts are offered to apple tree spirits to ensure a successful harvest the following summer. Think The Wicker Man without the wicker and sacrifices!
X is for Xmas Trees
There’s nothing like going down to the farm and choosing family Christmas tree together – and Devonians are spoilt for choice with dozens of farms offering to cut and bag the tree of your choice – and many also supplying holly wreathes, mistletoe and other festive staples.
Is there a better time to book a festive break in Devon? Cosy cottages galore, crackling log fires and maybe even a dusting of snow – magical.
Hop aboard the Christmas train, follow the gingerbread trail and meet Santa – not to mention the animals of Paignton Zoo - and make this a fun (and furry) Christmas!