Jewry Wall in Leicester is looking back before Christmas to an older winter festival. Courtesy Leicester City Museums Service.
Don’t spend the entire Christmas season shopping and eating – there’s plenty on in Leicester and the East Midlands that will make for interesting holidays. Here are the 24 Hour Museum’s picks that will make it worth venturing out in the cold.
The weekend before Christmas is a packed one, event-wise in Leicester. You could start the festivities by discovering the Roman festival of Saturnalia at Jewry Wall Museum on December 17. From 11am till 4pm the museum will the stage the winter solstice festival that honoured the god of seed and sowing, Saturn.
In the afternoon you can make your own clay Sigillaria (little figures), which were exchanged as part of the holy festival and learn about other associated customs like the greeting “Io, Saturnalia”. It is said, too, that Christmas was assigned to December 25 because it was so close to the Saturnalia celebrations, usually held for a week from December 17.
A little later in the day, those who aren’t afraid of the dark could head to Leicester All Hallows Church (Highcross Street) for an artist’s Christmas ghost story! Apparatus Phasmatis is being presented by OFFSITE (in association with the Churches Conservation Trust) from 5pm – 8pm on December 17, as part of the Leicester Gothic project.
Spooky stories will haunt you at All Hallows. Courtesy The City Gallery.
Artist Stuart Tait has used the eerie setting of All Hallows to immerse visitors in a beautiful but dark netherworld where the past mixes with the present. Shadowy figures and old tales told in whispers will weave among the cold pillars – turning the audience into ghosts. The event is free but it’s best to book a place on 0116 223 2063. You can catch a free shuttle bus between Leicester Railway Station, The City Gallery and the church, from 4.45pm to 8.15pm.
The ghosts of Christmas past are in the air at Belgrave Hall and Gardens, too, on December 18. From 11am to 4.30pm, you can celebrate a Victorian Christmas there, with art and craft activities, a costumed tour, roasted chestnuts and ‘waffail cups’ – a spicy seasonal drink.
It's a Victorian Christmas at Belgrave Hall. Courtesy Leicester City Museum Service.
The changing fads and fashions of Christmas home decorating are the subject of All Spruced Up, at the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland until January 6. The display takes a wry look at everything from kissing bushes to style statements.
Last but not least, it’s the last chance to catch Past and Present: 1000 years of Islam in Britain at New Walk Museum and Gallery. The fascinating exhibition depicts the rich history of relations between Islam and the British Isles, in particular looking at the Muslim community in Leicester since the 1960s. It will close on January 7 2006.