400 Years of Holiday Traditions

Featuring images of Christmases in English middle-class homes.

The Geffrye’s annual Christmas Past exhibition offers visitors a fascinating insight into how Christmas has been celebrated in English middle-class homes from 1600 to the present day. Each year, authentic festive decorations transform the museum’s eleven period rooms, creating a vivid and evocative picture of how earlier generations celebrated Christmas. Visitors can explore the origins of some of the rich and colorful traditions of Christmases past, from feasting, dancing and kissing under the mistletoe to playing parlour games, hanging up stockings, sending cards, decorating the tree and throwing cocktail parties. Throughout the exhibition, festive food will be served in the restaurant and visitors can hunt for original gifts, decorations, cards and books in the shop.

The Christmas Past exhibition has been featured at the Geffrye for over 20 years.  On-going, original research into the history of Christmas adds a new dimension to the displays each year. A well-illustrated book, Christmas Past, Christmas Present, has been written to tell the history of Christmas in English homes and is available in the museum’s shop.

For those who cannot enjoy this wonderful exhibition in person, there is a “Christmas Past Gallery” online featuring images of Christmases in English middle-class homes with a decorated hall in 1630, an 18th century parlour, holiday drawing rooms from 1830 and 1870; plus toys, food and decorations all the way to the 1960s.

The Geffrye museum in Shoreditch, just minutes from the City of London, explores the British home from 1600 to the present day, focusing on the living rooms of the urban middle classes in England, particularly London. A chronological series of period rooms show how such homes have been used and furnished over this period, reflecting changes in society and patterns of behavior as well as style, fashion and taste.

Related Events:

Open Evening: Find Your Festive Spirit: Enjoy Christmas Past by candlelight, listen to a seasonal gallery talk, sing along to live festive music or bring children to a decoration-making workshop. Come and get merry!

Family Day: A lively day of Christmas decoration workshops for children aged 3 and over, with carol singing for all ages.

Farewell to Christmas: The Geffrye’s traditional burning of the holly and the ivy, celebrated with carol singing, stories about Epiphany and a taste of mulled wine and Twelfth Night cake. Please note that this event takes place in the garden, so wrap up warm!

Concert by Candlelight: Acclaimed group Bocca Aperta returns to the Geffrye with a moving recital of a capella Christmas music under the Christmas tree in the reading room.

All That Glitters Christmas Decorations Workshop: Create a unique range of glitzy Christmas decorations using a variety of different techniques.

Christmas Greenery Workshop: Make festive arrangements with fresh greens and a mixture of scented, natural ornaments.

[Photo by kind permission of the Trustees of the Geffrye Museum, London]