My first Christmases were more Hee Haw than Ho Ho. I spent them in Paris where decorations were subtle, yuletide food was sophisticated and gifting was about quality not quantity. But not chez Roitman, neigh: my tree was stuffed with Cowboy Santa and his fleet of armadillo reindeer; the tree looked like it had disgorged an entire grotto of presents; and “Big is Best” was the motto with everything from the fayre to the music where it was all Bing, Judy, Barbra and Dean.
From the age of four, I would get my own glass of frothy egg-nog (the only item of food and beverage my mother ever succeeded in making), followed by a Franco-Russian dinner of borscht soup, blinis, caviar and Buche de Noel, the traditional French chocolatey log.
The Parisian Noels lasted twelve years before we sleighed into Grasse in the South of France. My parents would open their home to any singleton friend on Christmas Eve, so we always had quite a rodeo of Russian, Israeli, Argentinean, French and American relatives, artists, directors and actors.
Santa then moved with us to Barcelona, Tarpon Springs in Florida, Castletownshend in Ireland, and then finally, to London, our final yuletide resting spot. As they say in Texas, we’ve certainly been painting the town and the front porch.
The Christmas Museum
A favourite Christmas spot of mine is the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch. The museum is set in a cluster of 18th century almshouses and showcases typical middle-class English interiors from 1600 to the present day. There are 11 period rooms displays together with period gardens and a walled herb garden.
The Geffrye museum gets a Christmas makeover every year with its special exhibition: Christmas Past 400 Years of Seasonal Traditions in English Homes. Period baubles and greenery, music and lighting bring to life the traditions of Christmas during the last 400 years. You’ll learn about everything, from the origins of kissing under the mistletoe, hanging up stockings, decorating the fir tree and playing games.
Through the Looking Glass
Here are some of the festive sceneries you’ll see at the Geffrye Museum, on display until the 8th January.
I am hopeless at arts and crafts but always wanted to learn how to make a Christmas wreath. The Geffrye Museum’s wreath-making courses are famous, so I joined in with a group of about twenty or so other ladies last Friday. The class was led by the museum’s head gardener, Heather, who has been teaching wreath-making for 16 years. Thank goodness for Heather who was a wonderful guide and very patient with her less-than-able pupil.
Hannah, one of the museum’s curators, had some gems from Christmas past to share with us before the course started: a 1611 recipe book for making Leech (a blancmange-type concoction) which was served on New Year’s Eve; preserving notes including instructions on how to glaze and sugar fresh roses; recipes for mince pies from 1685, and a wonderful Christmas nursery scene by cartoonist Cruikshank, famous for being Dickens’s illustrator.
We then embarked on a two and a half hour Christmas wreath workshop with tea, mince pies, and holiday tunes. Heather has banned Bublé from her classroom, but Bing made a full appearance.
The word wreath comes from Middle English wrethe and Old English writha (a band). The ring base of the wreath can be made from wire, wicker or willow. The base then needs to be tightly bound in moss and more wire. A liner is added to the front, and evergreens are then inserted into the liner. We used fir and eucalyptus, but you could also use holly and ivy.
Have a very very Merry Christmas!