The Londoness

Born in Paris.

Made in London.

Teller of London Tales.

United Nations of Noël

Christmas, London, International, Texan Santa

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.

Paris, Christmas, Volf Roitman, Carmelo Arden Quin

Here I am with two of my low-key Christmas trees. On the left, with my father, artist Volf Roitman and with my badly-bahaved dog Menace; on the right, with the artist and founder of the MADI art movement, Carmelo Arden Quin.

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.

Christmas, London, Yule Log

Bûches de Noël then and now: left, the traditional log with meringue mushrooms; centre, The Lido, a modern concoction by Lenôtre; and right, The Marie Antoinette by Ladurée.

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.

Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch, Christmas Wreath

The Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch

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.

Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch, Christmas Wreath

New Year’s Day in 1600


Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch, Christmas Wreath

In 1745, the table is set for a tea of wine and jellies

Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch, Christmas Wreath

It was during Queen Victoria’s reign that many of our current Christmas traditions became popular. A twelfth night cake is the centrepiece of the table, (left) and decorating fir trees became the norm (right).

Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch, Christmas Wreath

A 1910 room with presents under the tree (left). Christmas is all about family in this early 20th century postcard.

Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch, Christmas Wreath

My favourite: a 1935 living room with Chinese lanterns.

Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch, Christmas Wreath

A 1965 room with colourful paper decorations.


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.

Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch, Christmas Wreath

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.

Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch, Christmas Wreath

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.

Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch, Christmas Wreath

The fun bit comes next: add candied fruits, acorns, pine cones, cinnamon, baubles….


Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch, Christmas Wreath

Fa La La! Here is my rather homemade looking masterpiece.

Have a very very Merry Christmas!


A London arts and culture blog featuring articles about art, theatre, opera, dance, music and design.


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