Everyone has an idea of the Perfect Christmas. How this looks will vary from person to person, or family to family – it could be as simple as a holiday without arguing or as grand as a ski getaway – but if I say to you now “envision the Perfect Christmas” most of you might conjure images of a fir tree decked with baubles, outdoor Christmas markets, mulled wine, shopping in the snow, children leaving treats for Santa and his reindeer, curling up in pyjamas watching Christmas films on TV – and nothing could be more Christmasy than a film about someone finding the Meaning of Christmas.
But what is the Meaning of Christmas? What is the Perfect Christmas? If I asked your grandparents, they might not share your vision. And if I asked your grandparents’ grandparents, they would probably be scandalised by your Perfect Christmas! However, a few generations further back still, they would probably wonder where your Lord of Misrule had gone and why you hadn’t planned any pranks on your neighbours. And if we go back long enough into your family tree, they wouldn’t celebrate anything you’d recognised as a Christmas celebration at all.
No Christian winter festival existed until the fourth century, at which point Christmas gradually began to take over from existing festivals like Saturnalia and January Kalends in the Roman Empire and eventual from Yule in Scandinavia. This is where my tale begins. From the medieval period, through the Reformation and Protestant adaptation, we will take a deep dive into the evolution of Christmas. By tracing the Protestant beginnings of early Father Christmas and Old Man Winter representations as a reaction against celebrating the Catholic saint St Nicholas in Protestant England, we’ll explore how these early Protestant Christmas Men – with many European winter figures of folklore in between – paved the way for a holiday based on a literary and cinematic heritage, manifesting in the fully secular and globalised Santa Claus figure we recognise today.
Witch Bottles & Worn Shoes
Wednesday, 20 November 2019
The secrets waiting within the walls of our domestic spaces are often not unearthed until renovation works bring these mysterious items into the light of a new day – and often a new century. During the extensive renovation works preparing the Geffrye: Museum of the Home for its grand reopening next year, one such secret was uncovered. In November 2018, builders discovered an old worn boot that was hidden in a walled up chimney void from when the museum was an almshouse. What was the boot doing there? Since a chimney void is hardly a likely place to accidentally lose a boot, who put it there? What purpose did it serve? Can we truly step into the mindset of the people who interred these objects – or will they remain a mystery?
The answers to these questions come from an ancient heritage of home-protection folklore practices throughout the British Isles reaching back through time – but also practiced far more recently than you might think.
For this evening lecture, we invite you to join Dr Romany Reagan in the restored eighteenth-century Geffrye Almshouse. The evening will begin with a chance to view the hidden boot and the almshouse, alongside an exhibition of other historical items used in home-protection folklore, and enjoy a glass of wine before heading upstairs to learn the curious history of the secrets within our walls.