A tradition has returned as the Museum of the Home in East London puts on a display of homes decorated for Christmas as they would have been in the past. They’ve done this annually for many years as the Geffrye Museum, but the display was put on hold when the museum closed for several years for its refurbishment.

So it’s a delight to see them back again, both the same as ever, but also slightly different this year.

It’s a reminder to use that so many of our cherished traditions are often very new and that the past did things very differently, and that’s if they did them at all.

Midwinter festival 1630 – the ancient festival to celebrate the shortest day of the year, but there’s growing criticism of drinking and merriment from the puritans.

Christmas 1695 – A puritan household, so don’t expect any of that Papist nonsense here. Bah humbug!

Sephardi Hanukkah 1745 – the Jewish festival that coincidentally takes place shortly before Christmas

Christmas Day 1790 – Although big meals are served, apart from a small bit of greenery, you’d struggle to find any festive decorations here.

Twelfth Night in 1830 –  Just a little holly over the pictures and the mantlepiece.

The extension building covers Christmas from 1870 to 1999…

Christmas Eve 1870 – starting to get to the Victorian style Christmas we all know, with a lot more decorations, and a Christmas tree. But it wasn’t to last.

Christmas Eve 1915 – a muted Christmas as the children foregoed their own presents in favour of sending gifts to those fighting on the Front.

Christmas Eve 1937 – a home decorated with the newly fashionable paper chains and an artificial tree, which impresses the friends.

Christmas Day 1970 – a fusion of the Caribbean and English festive traditions in a Hackney home.

Millennium Eve 1999 – Christmas has been packed away in this warehouse flat as a party to celebrate New Year takes place. But will the Millenium Bug bite?

What will a Christmas display of the home of 2020 look like – a display of facemask and Lateral Flow Tests?

Downstairs there’s a thought experiment as to what could affect the design of the house of the 2050s, as we adapt to climate change and an ageing population. One of the cards in there note that the homes of the future won’t be sci-fi visions of newly built houses, but a mishmash of old and new. A good lesson for the rooms in the rest of the museum, all of which do look as if they sprung brand new in the decade they were created without anything from the previous decades to spoil the view.

The exhibition, Christmas Past is at the Museum of the Home until 9th January. Entry is free, although they recommend booking in advance in case you turn up on a busy day.


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  1. JP says:

    It’s about time that paper chains came back.
    Fully recyclable, keeps the kids occupied whilst they’re making them and a subtle test of their attention span and boredom threshold.
    You asked what this year’s decorations could look like, well let me say the obvious: save your expensive disposable daily masks so that you can make them into a contemporary chain to the envy of all your neighbours ~ if we’re allowed to see anyone indoors by the time we get to Christmas, that is.

    • Steve Watts says:

      I love the Museum of the Home but was really disappointed by their Christmas offering. If you feel that you can forego a few sprigs of holly dotted around the displays then wait until the new year.

  2. Pat Storey says:

    Well worth a visit at any time of the year

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