Twelfth Night and Farewell Party at Geffrye Museum

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I visited the Geffrye Museum before Christmas in order to see their special 'Christmas Past' display, and my visit today was to partake in the Twelfth Night fun and the farewell party. The museum is located in a former almeshouse and depicts how people lived in London in the past. It shows the most popular family room (known in the past as living room, lounge, great hall, reception room, or parlour) in the house and describes items of furniture and how people lived. At Christmas, visiting the museum is extra special because the rooms are decorated for Christmas as they would have been in the age of the room on display. Christmas is actually a fairly recent celebration. Although it was observed in the past and most-likely adopted by Christains from pre-Christain or pagan rituals, it was not on the scale that we celebrate it today. In fact, Twelfth Night and Ephiphany were the popular celebration days.


Twelfth Night is celebrated twelve days after Christmas. This would fall on the 5th of January with Epiphany taking place on the sixth of January. The word "epiphany" means "manifestation" in Greek; essentially, this is when the three wise men went to present gifts to baby Jesus.Ā 

In the past and on the Twelfth Night in England, the wassail was sung to help the orchards and apple trees, and this would date back to pre-Christain times in the aid of the Holly Man or Green Man and the designated queen/king of the party. (I've covered a little bit about this topic in my Borough Market Apple Day post.) A yule log was also left burning until this day to protect the home.


Epiphany was also a day to play games, sing, and to prank people. It was a day of entertainment and parties. People drank spiced drinks with ginger or cinnamon and ate Twelfth Cake, which is similar to Christmas cake (a dried fruitcake and marzipan icing). Inside the cake would be a baked-in bean and a pea, and sometimes other items were included. The finder of the bean became king, and the finder of the pea became queen. This probably was a tribute to the wassail events. It was also customary that these parts were not gender-specific, so a female could be a king and a male a queen. A Twelfth Tart was also a dessert created to mimic stained-glass.


When I arrived, a band was playing Christmas songs, and a fire was lit in front of the museum. I also saw a large queue/line to purchase a slice of Twelfth Cake and mulled wine and for children to participate in a "lucky dip" to be queen or king for the night. I saw a smaller queue/line for the museum itself, but as I had just been three weeks ago, I did not need to return.


Upon having a quick browse, I went back to the band when it was eventually joined by a man in costume who told us about the Twelfth Night and historical information. He also explained that the Geffrye Museum would be closed for two years as they had received the funding of roughly 18 million pounds in order to renovate the displays, add more displays, add a new entrance from Hoxton station, and open up an almeshouse for tours. So, if you wish to visit before it closes for two years, today is the last day.


In between Christmas carols (such as "Good King Wenceslas", "The Twelve Days of Christmas", and "We Three Kings"), we were told more history of the songs and customs of the past. The king(s) and queen were also crowned and given a garland to wear.


After nearly the last carol, I escaped the crowd. By now, the fire was warm and surrounded by a small crowd.


For those who wish to join in the Farewell Party for the Geffrye Museum, the party goes on all day today until 5:00pm. Events will still take place on thr grounds throughout the year, and apparently, there may be a few tours of the almeshouses before the work is finished. Are any of my readers regular visitors to the museum, and will you miss visiting it when it's closed for two years?

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