Christmas Past: 400 Years of Seasonal Traditions in English Homes, plus Seven Years of Friendship

It’s becoming an annual Christmas tradition to meet up with some of my fellow online book discussion group members around the very beginning of December. Last year 10 of us planned to meet up at the London Review of Books Cake Shop on Bury Street near The British Museum. Then the snow fell … and fell and fell … so that in the end we were much reduced in number. Those who made it were mainly from way outside London – me from Yorkshire, also Bath, Oxford, plus two nearby Londoners from Chiswick and Dulwich.

This year 9 of us descended on The Geffrye Museum in Kingsland Road, east London. We’d booked a table in the restaurant to meet formally for lunch at 2.30pm. Travelling down from Leeds for the day this arrangement suited me fine. In fact I made the booking myself, just to make sure it would happen!

Christmas at the Geffrye Museum

The weather was certainly kinder to us this year. Although there was rain I hardly noticed it as almost all of my time was spent under cover. The Museum consists of a series of period rooms which at this time of year are decorated for Christmas according to the period. We didn’t really have much time to study the rooms in any depth as our main reason for being there was for lunch, book swops and natter. Our suburban London and Essex members had no problem getting here this time and Eurostar behaved itself so that our member living in Brussels was able to join us as well.

Two tall piles of book swops disappearing fast!

What happens is this. There are two parts to our celebration apart from the meal and tea. Those who wish to do so bring a gift-wrapped book – one they think that it will be unlikely that others will not own or will not have read – not an easy challenge but it was successful. These are all collected up and then the bag full is passed round so that we can each have a ‘lucky’ dip. This we did between courses i.e. after the Geffrye Pie but before the Christmas pudding. I’m now the owner of “Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons. It’s a collection of short stories previously published in magazines such as The Lady, The Bystander, Good Housekeeping and now reprinted in a lovely new paperback edition by Vintage.

We also bring along some unwrapped swops and throw them all into the ‘ring’. These made two fair-sized piles which we put aside until after we’d finished eating. There is none of that “After you Cecil” “No, after you Claude” – we speak up straightaway when we see a book we should like to have. The picture shows a much-diminished pile but by the end there were just 2 books left to donate to the charity shop.

Long may this ‘Countdown to Christmas’ tradition last!


20 comments on “Christmas Past: 400 Years of Seasonal Traditions in English Homes, plus Seven Years of Friendship

  1. Simon T says:

    Lovely post, Barbara, and I spot my nail-bitten hand there! I’ve now popped up my post too, as has Elaine. I wish the rain hadn’t affected me, but Carol and I spent quite some time tramping around, getting wet!

  2. No-one except us would have known if you hadn’t mentioned it, Simon! I didn’t want to crop the photo so I’m afraid it stays. Sorry you did suffer in the rain but glad that otherwise your “Londoning” was successful.

  3. What a wonderful event Barbara, all hail to old friends who didn’t turn out to be axe murderers:-) and lovely to see the list stll going strong. I love the unceremonious method of the book swap and I see an ex group member’s book in the pile too. The Geffrye Museum sounds well worth a visit, I must add it to my list. Isn’t Stella Gibbons cover gorgeous, great choice!

  4. I wish I could have made it. Perhaps next year (sigh). The museum looks wonderful.

  5. Do try to come along next year, Hayley, will be great to have you with us!

  6. Marie-Noëlle says:

    A nice event with a nice tradition …
    I spotted the snow outside, and then on the table I spotted the tea pot, the glasses of WATER, the pile of books, the name of “Alan Sillitoe”, the empty plates – with only a few crumbs left, … but no bitten nails… Well, until I read the comments section !!!

  7. Ah! Marie-Noelle, I had to look again – the snow was last year which prevented some of the group getting there! We were spared it this year – just heavy rain. But we’ve had some now although not enough to upset any travel plans. For rest you were very observant! Water and tea at lunchtime!

  8. dianabirchall says:

    Such a beautiful vivid description, words and pictures – and so easy for me to picture since I’ve been at a Dovemeet and met most of you. Now I want to be there for another December one…or a spring Charleston-or-Charlotte one…must plan my next English trip properly!

  9. Oxfordian says:

    Barbara, I feel impressed with this blogg and it’s quality!
    Thank you very much for inviting me reading these.

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