WARREN HAYDEN: The Portsmouth festival that signals the arrival of Christmas

There are many signs Christmas is on the way.

Tuesday, 29th November 2016, 6:09 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 12:44 pm
It must be Christmas

I know, they seem to come along earlier each year and I’ve no problem with this. I love this time of year and for me the earlier the better.

The shops bring the first signs that Christmas is around the corner with their tins of chocolates, Advent calendars and mince pies.

Another sign are the Christmas TV adverts imploring us to choose them on which to spend our hard-earned cash. My favourite is the John Lewis ad with Buster the Boxer.

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But here in Portsmouth there is something that tells me it’s about time I started my Christmas shopping. It’s the last weekend in November when the Victorian Festival of Christmas returns to the Historic Dockyard.

It’s a Hayden family tradition to visit the event each year and it never disappoints.

Of course, when you enter the dockyard you are greeted with the magnificent sight of HMS Warrior. My daughters Caitlin and Alyssa, at five and seven, are a bit young to take in and absorb the history you feel as you step on to the attraction, but on our many visits they enjoy exploring what they think is a pirate ship.

There are so many things I enjoy about the Victorian Festival of Christmas.

One of my favourites is the impressive Fagin’s real ale tavern in the Spiegeltent with its entertainment, Christmas carols and traditional Christmas drinks. Mulled wine anyone?

Another highlight is Mr Alexander and his travelling show. He’s there every year showcasing his talents which include juggling, unicycling and illusion.

Seven-year-old Caitlin still recalls last year’s festival when he made a coin disappear behind her ear.

Then there is the bustling Christmas market where a little more money is always spent with so many original items I can never seem to find anywhere else.

I always go home with a selection of cheeses with various added tasty ingredients ready to be gobbled down on Boxing Day.

But away from the attractions, there’s a great atmosphere just walking through the Victorian streets with costumed characters interacting with visitors. It makes you feel like you’ve been transported back in time.

It’s such a great family event that impresses year after year. You might not think a dockyard would provide much entertainment for children but each year my daughters enjoy the visit and in particular the snow-covered streets and seeing Father Christmas with his real reindeer.

We’re already looking forward to returning next year and are happy that, in Portsmouth, Christmas has begun.


If you have young children I bet I can predict your average car journey.

The children are safely strapped into their seats and after clicking your seatbelt into place all you need to do is get from A to B. But all parents know it’s not that easy.

On the way to our destination the journey will include a series of obstacles thrown our way by the little people in the back.

First, just minutes into the trip will come the question ‘are we there yet?’ It’s a classic question used by every child in every generation which nearly always has the same answer. No.

Then comes the toy dropping, where mummy or daddy is required to contort and bend their body to fetch the much-loved toy from beneath the seat before the traffic lights turn green.

That toy won’t be dropped once but at regular two-minute intervals.

Later comes something no parent wants to hear: ‘I need a wee’.

Can they wait until we reach our destination?

Of course they can’t.