At this time of year, I envy Eloise. For my nine year old daughter, Christmas comes too slowly and is filled with magic. Not for Eloise the seasonal “to do” list which seems to take over the experience and always ends in panic. This year, I am determined to recapture the Christmas that feels like Eloise’s, which comes too slowly and is filled with good cheer.
In London, I can think of no better way to get into the Christmas spirit than by paying a visit to the Geffrye Museum’s exhibition of Christmas Past. Now in its seventeenth year, this exhibition provides masses of interesting information about 400 years of English Christmas traditions and decorations. This scrupulously researched exhibit shows Christmas in all glory and depravity and drives home the point that, as the Guidebook to the exhibition states, "people have been complaining for centuries that Christmas isn’t what it used to be.”
As opposed to running around stores and getting anxious, I found it hugely instructive and entertaining to spend a couple of hours last Friday looking and thinking about our changing attitudes to Christmas. I was amazed by the Tudor’s enthusiasm, the Parliamentarians disdain (From 1644 to 1660, Christmas was outlawed by an Act of Parliament) and the Georgian’s disinterest. Equally engaging were the nostalgia of the Regency period and the family focus and revived musical interest of the Victorians.
In each of the twelve rooms, which are decorated in the festive style of the period, you get a wonderful sense of how people felt about Christmas and what it meant to them. As I wandered through the Post War rooms, I was charmed by the older visitors who were sharing with each other what Christmas had been like for them during the period. “Well, in those days, we didn’t have a fridge or a washing machine so …”
The Geffrye Museum of English Interiors, located in Shoreditch near the City is always an uncrowded and pleasant place to visit but never more so than at Christmas. The “Christmas Past” Exhibition makes you happy to be part of age old traditions and customs that reach far beyond frenetic shopping and partying. Each of the twelve rooms gave me at least one good idea of something I could do in my own home to make the holidays more beautiful and special. The gift shop has lovely books about Christmas plus plenty of tasteful and well priced decorations. Best of all, on a busy afternoon in the run-up to Christmas, my life really did slow down for a while and was filled with good cheer.
The Geffrye Museum
136 Kingsland Road
Tel: 020 7739 9893
Open Tuesday – Saturday 10 AM – 5 PM
Sunday and Bank Holidays 12 – 5 PM
Christmas Past: 400 Years of Seasonal Traditions in English Homes will run from 28 November 2006 – 7 January 2007
Picture of Elizabethan strips of "bacon" made from sugar and served as a delicacy at Christmas from the Geffrye Museum Advent Calendar for December 4.