Contemporary Decorations

TurquoiseTomorrow is the last day of Christmas and traditionally all the festive decorations will be taken down.

Going-blueSince early December there has been a contemporary Christmas Tree erected outside the University of Suffolk on the Ipswich Waterfront.

Blue-green-tree-IpswichFeaturing a gradually changing lighting scheme it has attracted plenty of attention and quite a few people have been taking photographs.

green-goldIt is interesting to see non-traditional displays. This one is all about lighting up the winter evenings as it references a traditional tree without being a chopped down fir.

Going-greenI saw it being erected and was unsure about its appearance, but once night fell and the lights were switched on I thought the subtly changing colours were rather beautiful.

Scale-tree
Hard to grasp the scale, but easier with a human in shot!

Christmas is about traditions, but it is pleasing to see new contemporary, festive interpretations too.

 

Dragon Hall and the Ghosts of a Medieval Christmas

Dragon Hall Norwich medieval
Dragon Hall, King St, Norwich.
Timber & brick 15th-century medieval trading hall originally known as Splytts.
c.1430s
Community traditions are subject to the vagueries of fashion just as any other aspects of human society. A month ago I mentioned Mummers and a rural tradition that eventually became part of a Royal Christmas for Edward III. This Christmas tradition has ebbed and flowed in popularity across the centuries. It had been widely practised across England through the 18th and 19th centuries, but largely faded as a regular community activity with the onset of the First World War.

timber crown post roof
The medieval timber crown-post roof of Dragon Hall.
So it was with curiosity I went to Dragon Hall in Norwich to see some contemporary mummers. Local volunteer/supporters of the restored medieval hall, now a museum and tourist attraction, decided to revive some mumming entertainment. They performed a light-hearted, rhyming version of St George and the Dragon, a popular theme at Christmas for a mummers’ play. I expect this theme would no doubt have found favour with the successful merchant and alderman, Robert Toppes who had funded the building of the 15th-century Splytts (Dragon Hall) and had been a member of the Guild of St George.


Alice or Joan-ToppesThe old village traditions of mummers’ plays were based on the death and re-birth theme. This theme was incorporated here not by the dragon being killed by St George, but by the death of St George. Having fought the dragon, poor old St George then has to fight a bully of a knight called, Slasher, who cheats and kills him with a much bigger sword. Luckily for St George, working within the traditional re-birth theme, a doctor armed with a magical potion brings him back to life. The play is introduced by ‘Little Johnny Jack his wife and family on his back’ and along with St George, Slasher and the Quack Doctor are all traditional mummers’ characters portrayed in Christmas shows from 18th-century Southern England. Often acted in disguise these performances allowed poorer members of the community to earn extra money during the festive season.

There was a homespun, local feel to the Dragon Hall performance in keeping with the informal roots of mumming. Although the mummers were costumed they didn’t have masks. I know it is difficult for actors (even professionals) to work from behind masks, but I think that the element of disguising would have added a medieval depth to the piece that the venue of Dragon Hall so invited.

Carved dragon
The carved dragon found in the roof timbers during the restoration of Dragon Hall.