Cribs, toys and trees go on show throughout the country — along with Christmas tea.
GALLERIES, unlike shops, at least wait until Advent before unveiling their seasonal offerings which more and more reflect the fine example of the famous annual Bethnal Green Christmas exhibition.
In Bournemouth the RussellCotes Museum is preparing for an Edwardian Christmas (daily except Sundays, December 15 to January 19; admission 50p). Since this cliff-top building is really a marine villa built at the turn of the century for art collector Sir Merton RussellCotes, only an Edwardian theme can be convincing. The Council Parks Department, which has thousands of pines in its care, is supplying a tree for the galleried hail.
Princess Beatrice and Princess Marie Louise, who both enjoyed German style Christmases, took tea with Lady Russell-Cotes in her boudoir. Today Christmas tea is available below stairs. The Drawing Room, appropriately overloaded with ornaments and furniture, has Prince Albert (who with Dickens re-launched Christmas) looking out of a coronet topped frame.
When Benjamin Disraeli took the Queen's advice and spent Christmas next door at Bournemouth's Royal Bath Hotel, there was deep snow and very low temperatures which forced the premier to stay indoors dutifully reading The Life of The Prince Consort. The Prince of Wales thoughtfully sent twenty pheasants to supplement the fare.
The Bournemouth museum is noted for its large collection of Edwin Long paintings but also has work by Gainsborough, Constable, Winterhalter, Landseer, Frith and Byam Shaw. Sir Hugh Casson, who has seen much as the most active of Royal Academy Presidents, has described a visit to the Russell-Cotes as "rather like opening someone else's toy cupboard".
At Nottingham's Brewhouse Yard Museum a Christmas tree decorated with old fashioned lights has been placed in the parlour to mark the opening of the sixth annual and expanding Christmas Gifts and Customs exhibition (daily until 6 January; admission free). There are well illustrated stories of the pudding, the card and the stocking, as well as suggested origins for other customs. Most fascinating here are the examples of old Christmas tree decorations.
Back at Bethnal Green's Museum of Childhood the usual Spirit of Christmas exhibition (daily except Fridays until January 20; admission free) is this year sub-titled "with the Nutcracker Prince" and given a German theme, The famous ballet, which opens with a Christmas Eve party in Nuremburg, embraces the 19th century, having been based on a fairy tale published in 1816 and turned into a ballet in I 892.
The exhibition first shows the history of the ballet through photographs, designs, costumes and memorabilia and goes on to demonstrate how the Royal Ballet develops a new production at Covent Garden.
Alongside are the toys, pictures and books of a German Christmas dominated by the tree. Wooden toys so often seen in old prints of Father Christmas are on display. Today German children may have been turned towards plastic cars and planes but at least they are still visited by St Nicholas rather than `Santa'. The real reason for the continued existence of his assistant Krampus must be that wearing a cope and mitre as well as holding a crozier makes carrying one's own heavy sack very difficult.
The American mixture of St Nicholas and elves is presented at The Barbican in Christmas With E S Taylor, (daily 10 December to 6 January; admission free). Having had a go at sets for a Nutcracker production, Taylor now creates window displays for major New York stores and these tableaux were originally Tiffany's 1981 seasonal offering.
Simultaneously The Barbican is also staging Folk Nativities of The World (daily December 10 to January 7; admission 50p) which shows a hundred interpretations of the crib from forty countries.
This remarkable exhibition is the result of fifteen years research by Countess Maria von Staufer — one of the world's few Christmas historians.
The cribs, coming from such different lands as Poland and Peru, are traditional but represent how craftsmen interpret the Christmas story in accordance with their particular environment and skills. The Upper Volta crib is metal whilst the Blue Ridge Mountains example is made from corn husks.