Lose yourself in these audio books, plays and podcasts as you get on in the kitchen.

The cooking must be done if the household is to have a Merry Christmas and New Year but you can turn a chore into a pleasure by choosing the right thing to listen to all the while. A playlist of your favourite festive songs or carols will only take you so far. For true immersion, you need a nice bit of narrative. Here is our selection of the greatest stories, plays and podcasts to enhance your Christmas cookathon.

The Christmas Chronicles: A Podcast

This podcast was recorded in 2018 to mark the publication of Nigel Slater’s exquisite book The Christmas Chronicles. In the series, we join him on a mid-winter walk as he reads – in his ultra-comforting tones – extracts, recipes, notes and stories from the book. His love of the cold months and Christmas itself is inspiring. Take this passage in praise of Christmas Eve: ‘Carols are playing, the table is dusted with flour and the pastry cutters are having their annual outing. This is the day I relish almost more than any other – and in part because it’s the day I get to make mince pies.’ Trust us – this is the most soothing and festive recording imaginable. Listen in here.

A Christmas Carol

We have Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to thank for many of the ways we celebrate Christmas today. The festive tale of redemption arguably includes the best descriptions of Christmas in all of literature. This five-part audio recording – narrated by Sean Baker – is an enchanting reminder of bitter old Scrooge and his mega epiphany. The heart can do nothing but soar as, at the end, Scrooge buys the poulterer’s last turkey (which is ‘twice the size of Tiny Tim’) for the Cratchits and flies around smiling and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. Listen in here.

The Cherry Orchard

This Chekhov classic is for those cooks who want diversion but to avoid something overtly Christmassy. Here, writer Katherine Tozer and composer John Chambers breathe new life into the celebrated play about an aristocratic Russian landowner who returns, after a five-year absence, to her family estate to discover that it’s about to be auctioned in order to pay seemingly insurmountable debts. Not what you might call uplifting – but is it absorbing? Sure. Listen in here.

The Snowman

Perhaps you are cooking with your children – or perhaps you’d like a reminder of your own childhood Christmases. Try this audiobook, inspired by the original Raymond Briggs story of The Snowman, reimagined for a new generation by Michael Morpurgo and narrated by Richard Armitage. Magical – whatever your age. Listen in here.

Christmas Compass

In this gift of a recording from the BBC, four different narrators read four contemporary festive stories, one from each corner of the British Isles, by the much-loved author Alexander McCall Smith. In one, a detective makes a surprising connection when he retires to his hometown. In another, a grieving woman finds comfort and companionship in an unlikely setting. In a third, an intrepid reporter in search of his next big scoop remembers the importance of kindness. The final one is a gripping story about coincidence. Listen in here.

Little Women

If Charles Dickens’s descriptions of Christmas in A Christmas Carol are the best in literature, Louisa May Alcott’s ones in Little Women are the second best. For that reason, and because it is an utterly heart-warming and engrossing tale, this is the perfect novel to amuse you while you cook. From the very first line – ‘Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. – you know you are in for a treat. Listen in here.

Last Christmas

This book, recorded here in audiobook format, is a beautiful collection of personal essays by the likes of Meryl Streep, Bill Bailey, Olivia Colman and Caitlin Moran about their memories of Christmases past. Introduced and curated by Emma Thompson and Greg Wise, it ‘celebrates the importance of kindness and generosity, acceptance and tolerance – and shows us that these values are not just for Christmas’. Even better, some of the proceeds from sales of the book go to Crisis and The Refugee Council. Listen in here.

The Calm Christmas Podcast

The wonderful Beth Kempton is an author, Reiki Master, yoga teacher and very calm human being. She says: ‘In this podcast I share soothing wintery words from my favourite poets and writers, tips for a stress-free holiday season and advice for taking care of ourselves at this time of year. Join me at my kitchen table deep in the English countryside to explore ideas for a natural and sustainable Christmas.’ Listen in here.

By Becky Ladenburg
December 2021

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Becky Ladenburg

Features Editor

As the GWG's features editor, Becky has her discerning finger on the cultural pulse. She's also our go-to expert on the property market.