Museum Preview: Secrets of Christmas past

Oliver Cromwell's love of hunting, hawking and music and Milton's delight in the classical arts, the odd glass of wine and a good knees- up are often forgotten when the strictures of the 17th-century Puritans are discussed. And rightly so, you might argue. The original party poopers judged the harmless rituals of Christmas Day and May Day as idolatrous and pagan atrocities. With the Republic, the zealous Puritan government finally set about banning them, along with theatre, organs in church and any other "sins which go under the name of pastimes".

Few places felt the pinch more than the Queen's House in Greenwich, according to Mistress Babington. Played by a National Maritime Museum actor-interpreter, the wife of the Palladian villa's original housekeeper reminisces with visitors about the good old days before the Puritans. Built by James I for his wife, Anne of Denmark, the "House of Delights" came into its own with the sophisticated court culture of Charles I. In keeping with the lavish masques in Whitehall, the King's wife Henrietta Maria organised equally opulent court entertainments in the Queen's House. The music to which the court and the rest of gentrified society of the 1630s danced will be featured in a seasonal programme of music, "Among the Green Boughs:", performed by costumed musicians.

With the Revolution, however, both the King and Christmas were deposed. Mistress Babington tells how festive celebrations continued secretly as Christmas went underground. Thankfully, under the stewardship of a respectful Puritan, Bulstrode Whitlock, the Queen's House suffered little damage and remains a splendid site to recount the restoration not only of a Stuart monarch but a Stuart Christmas.

`Christmas Restored' to Dec 30 (except 24-28inc), `Among the Green Boughs' Dec 20-23, 27-31. Queen's House, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London SE10 (0181-858 4422)

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