Geffrye Museum Conjures Ghosts Of Christmas Past

By Ben Venables Last edited 37 months ago
Geffrye Museum Conjures Ghosts Of Christmas Past
A drawing room in 1870. Photo Chris Ridley.
A drawing room in 1870. Photo Chris Ridley.
A hall in 1630. Photo Jayne Lloyd.
A hall in 1630. Photo Jayne Lloyd.
This reflects the current room display, decorated for Christmas Past.

A living room in 1935 at Christmas Past.
A living room in 1935. Photo Steve Speller.
The exterior of the Geffrye Museum at dusk showing the tree lit for Christmas Past
The exterior of the Geffrye Museum at dusk showing the tree lit for Christmas Past. Photo Steve Speller.

Turkeys weren't always first choice for Christmas dinner. Until the late 19th century the main course was usually roast beef. And while many will be relieved to know sprouts were off the Yuletide menu, the favoured seasonal side dish was a boiled pudding of suet and dried fruit — plum pudding was tastier than it sounds though, and it did pave the way for the Christmas pudding we know today.

This is a special year for Hoxton's Geffrye Museum, marking not only the 25th year of its Christmas Past exhibition which starts tomorrow, but 300 years since its buildings were constructed and 100 years of them being used as a museum.

The team of curators have been busy putting up 119 Christmas cards, 69 gifts, 147 decorations and four real and two artificial Christmas trees. Curator Hannah Fleming tells us that visitors will be able to walk through the museum's 11 period rooms to find that "each room tells a story of different Christmas traditions from the past 400 years".

The earliest represented era displays festive evergreens, which stretch further back than the 1630s hall depicted, all the way to pagan times in fact, long before the plant came to be a Christian symbol of everlasting life.

The greenery acts as something of a Christmas constant, but it’s not until Victorian times that fir trees began to dominate. Prince Albert popularised the idea, though it was brought to Britain in the previous century by Queen Charlotte.

From the last century's selection of salons, a 1930s living room is one of the most visually striking. It's based on one of the era's new London mansion blocks, and the greenery starts to compete with the advent of artificial trees and paper decorations.

Christmas cards, stockings and the King's broadcast are just a few of the Christmas customs to find out more about here. Fortunately though, the curators did miss one tradition: they have placed no real-life warring families in any of the rooms. Though we suspect, had they done so, the museum would have had a calming affect — it's very family friendly. The cafe is also a favourite and there's a cracking little gift shop.

By Ben Venables

Christmas Past at the Geffrye Museum runs from 25 November 2014 - 4 January 2015, except for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Admission is free.

Last Updated 24 November 2014