Step back in festive time: ‘Christmas Past’ at The Geffrye Museum


The Geffrye Museum’s ‘Christmas Past’ exhibit has taken place every festive season for the last quarter of a century. Each year,this quirky museum based in a large almshouse building in Hoxton (whose general focus is on the changing style of British domestic interiors)transforms its‘period living rooms’ with authentic festive decorations, lighting, greeneryand even music, bringing to vivid life the different ways the season of goodwill has been celebrated over the past four centuries in Britain.

In so doing then, the exhibition puts front and centre many of the rich traditions of Christmases past, including feasting, dancing, playing parlour games, hanging up stockings, sending cards, decorating the tree, throwing cocktail parties and even, yes, kissing under the mistletoe.

However, the exhibit also makes clear that Christmas hasn’t always been in fashion. Unlike the feast-driven jollity and even hedonism at this time during much of the last century and even in the early seventeenth century, in the mid-1600s Christmas was banned by the Puritan-dominated Parliament, which disapproved of the excessive carousing and chicanery of the season. ‘Christmas Past’ tells how it was reinstated in 1660 (along with the monarchy’s restoration), but was arguably subdued until the early nineteenth century when the forerunners of today’s party games – parlour entertainments – caught on, like blind man’s buff and charade-like character games.

Of course, though, it was during Victorian times that the festival returned in its full glory and the introduction of so many of the customs we’re familiar with today took place, such as decorating a fir tree for the home, children putting up stockings and everyone sending out Christmas cards. Indeed, our modern Christmases were in their genesis during the reign of Queen Victoria – as recorded so memorably by the era’s mighty literary figure, Charles Dickens.

Throughout the the Christmas Past’ exhibition’s duration, the museum’s café will be adding to the celebrations with locally sourced festive menus and homemade seasonal drinks, while the shop will be brimming with unusual gifts, merry decorations, seasonal homewares and treats.

Also, exhibition will be accompanied by several related events – which will be ticketed somust be booked in advance – that may well catch your eye; after all, should you visit the exhibition, while staying in one of our boutique hotels in London, it’s bound to put you in the Christmas spirit, so why not indulge in it further…?

Adult events:

Christmas Greenery workshop

  • Help the museum’s gardeners create a seventeenth century-inspired, festive foliage decoration
  • Friday 11 December, 2-5pm and Saturday 12 December, 1.30-4.30pm/ tickets £50; £45 concessions (includes a short talk, workshop and materials)

 Christmas Past in Focus

  • An informal talk on the subject of seventeenth century Christmas traditions
  • Saturday 12 December, 11.30am and repeated at 3pm/ free

Concert by Candlelight

  • A Christmas music recital froma capella group Bocca Aperta
  • Thursday 17 December – museum opens at 7.30pm; concert at 8pm/ tickets £20; £17 concessions (includes a glass of sherry or port and a mince pie)

 Events for all ages:

  • Open Evening: A Seventeenth Century Christmas
  • Listen to seasonal music, learn about festive traditions andintroduce your children to a greenery crown-making workshop. Suppers will be served in the museum café.
  • Thursday 3 December, 5-8pm/ free

Crafty Fox Night Market: Christmas shopping with soul

  • Design-led, handmade productswill be sold directly by their makers at this festive event that also comprises creative workshops, DJs and a bar
  • Thursday 17 December, 4-9pm/ free

 Farewell to Christmas

  • Enjoy themuseum’s traditional burning of the holly and the ivy, carol singing and stories of Epiphany, as well as mulled wine and Twelfth Night cake in the museum gardens
  • Wednesday 6 January, 3.30-5pm/ free

 Events for children:

  • Workshop: Greenery Garlands (ages 2-16 years)
  • Kids will be encouraged to create greenery-inspired garlands to hang in the home
  • Saturday 12 December, 10.30am-12.30pm and 2-4pm/ free
  • Venue: The Geffrye Museum, 136 Kingsland Road, Hackney, London E2 8EA

Travel: Hoxton Overground rail station (directly behind the museum)/ Old Street Tube station, exit 2 then bus 243 or 15 minute walk/Liverpool Street Tube station, Bishopsgate exit then bus 149 or 242

Exhibition dates: 24 November 2015-3 January 2016 (closed 24-26 December and 1 January)/ free entry

Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays, 10am-5pm