The Geffrye Museum Christmas Past Exhibition, London (November – early January)
Located in a former almshouse, the Geffrye Museum has eleven period living rooms. They are transformed with authentic festive decorations, lighting, music and greenery to give visitors a magical glimpse into how Christmas has been celebrated in English middle-class homes over the past 400 years.
The Geffrye Museum Christmas Past exhibition kicks off the festive calendar in London. Visit on a Sunday to combine it with a trip to the nearby Columbia Road flower market where you can buy evergreens to ‘deck the halls with boughs of holly’.
- Tour the exhibition and garden
- Eat lunch in the café
- Visit the Almshouse
- Good for cultural foodies
- Celebrate Twelfth Night
Get into The Christmas Spirit
This much-loved exhibition leads you through a series of inter-connecting family rooms where Christmas celebrations are underway, starting with the hallway of a London merchant’s house in the 1600s and ending with a Shoreditch loft conversion in the 1990s. It’s a charming way to see how life has changed and for children, it’s a real eye-opener.
See the Festive Food
In each room you’ll see the festive food laid out on the dining table. Most families roast a turkey today but you’ll discover this didn’t become the main Christmas dish until the nineteenth century. Prior to that beef, boar and other fowls were the dish of the day. In the 1790 parlour, roast beef was served with plum pudding, the forerunner of today’s Christmas pudding.
Christmas in a 1960s living room at the Geffrye Museum
Admire the Decorations
Surprisingly, having a Christmas tree in the home didn’t become a popular tradition until Victorian times. In the 1600s, the ‘yule log’ was dragged into the house on Christmas Eve. It was decorated with ribbons and evergreens and ceremoniously lit using a piece of last year’s log. Today, it is chocolate log cakes that are decorated in homes across the country.
Christmas in a 1920s living room at the Geffrye Museum
Celebrate Twelfth Night With Cake
In Victorian households, the tradition of Twelfth night was celebrated with a special cake just as it still is today in France with the Galette des Rois. The cake contained a bean and whoever discovered it would become the ‘King’ and master for the night. By the end of the nineteenth century, the cake became increasingly decorative with sugar frosting, gilded paper trimmings and elaborate figures made of sugar paste.
- After seeing the exhibition, have tea and cake in the café where the emphasis is firmly on local produce
- Have lunch at one of the excellent Vietnamese restaurants in the area
- The building is very narrow so visit on a weekday when it’s less crowded
- Visit again on Twelfth Night to wave goodbye to Christmas with carol singing, mulled wine, stories about Epiphany and Twelfth Night cake as well as the ritualistic burning of the holly and the ivy
Where to Stay in London
The Hotel Zetter
The Zetter Hotel is a quirky, award-winning boutique hotel located in fashionable Clerkenwell, London.
Rooms from £135 a night.
They tell me that it’s Assistance Dogs only.
How to Find The Geffrye Museum
Geffrye Museum Christmas Past Exhibition, 136 Kingsland Rd, London E2 8EA
The Foodie Travel Guide
Sally is the founder and editor of The Foodie Travel Guide. She travels around the UK and beyond in search of the best foodie days out, tasting experiences and delicious places to stay. She loves a glass of English sparkling wine, afternoon tea with friends and escaping London for gastronomic adventures.