The awakened mob has come to the Christmas tree

Christmas trees in their extravagant and luxurious glory are still perhaps best preserved in Victorian and Edwardian hotels in London. Without stretching out for drinks or tea at five-star prices, the capital’s galleries and museums used to be the next best places to rely on for this seasonal delight. For any child to be dragged by one such trinkets would have drunk a bean to be dragged around another fair. Sadly, this Christmas incentive can no longer be offered over early cultural immersion, because these cultured establishments have either given up on Christmas or—worse—feel compelled to give us some “relevant” message.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington decided this year that its Christmas tree should not consist of anything tacky like actual pine trees, but instead come in the form of an oversized dress. Korean fashion designer Miss Sohee presents us with “an ethereal gown… consisting of a crepe de chine bodysuit and a snow-white silk chiffon cape adorned with star-inspired embroidery and Swarovski crystals.” It may not have been what the kids were hoping for, but a case can be made for it – fashion falls under the V&A’s broader rubric of being the premier museum of applied arts. It is certainly not offensive. The same can’t be said for pregnancy in Tate galleries in recent years.

Tate Britain in Millbank, just a mile from the Houses of Parliament, has become deeply infested with booze. She closed her restaurant because the Rex Whistler mural covering the dining room featured two portraits of slave boys so unobtrusive that Labor MPs admitted not seeing them when they dined there. The captions for the Hogarth Show earlier this year were beyond parody — “Can a chair [Hogarth is sitting on in a self-portrait] Also standing up for all these unnamed black and brown people empowering community that supports their energetic creativity? In a word no.

The fair’s Christmas fixtures in recent years have been preaching in a similar vein. For four years, Tate Britain has turned its front-facing river into a Christmas scene, but it echoes more nightmares than sweet dreams. To get things started, Alan Keene was invited to decorate the facade with the kind of ultralights sometimes found in bungalows in the suburbs. This is called tati Christmas Home, declared itself as a celebration of peculiar British slang taste, or rather the lack thereof. The problem is that one feels, as with Martin Parr’s photography, an urban sophisticated take on proverbial rather than a celebration of cul-de-sac culture.

The following year, monstrous slugs crawled down Tate’s exterior stairs, courtesy of artist who styles herself Monster Chetwynd, formerly Spartacus Chetwynd and Marvin Gaye Chetwynd. As a descendant of a Viscount who was educated at the progressive Bedales boarding school, her taste for exotic names probably shouldn’t come as a surprise; That slugs are associated with Christmas is rather startling.

Tate’s seasonal festivities hit rock bottom with Ann Hardy The depth of darkness, the return of light. “In anticipation of the winter solstice, Anne Hardy was inspired by the rhythms of the Earth and the tides of the River Thames,” we’re told. Where that inspiration was far from inspiring, let alone Christmassy — it meant that the facade of Tate Britain was decked out with what looked like soggy toilet paper, seemingly a manifesto of what might happen when climate change meant the River Thames would overflow its banks.

This year there is no Christmas commission by Tate. Perhaps we should be grateful that we can enjoy Gainsboroughs, Turners, and Rosettis without having to put up with an annual dose of low-grade agitprop, but it’s still a pity that the season of goodwill isn’t marked even by a lonely tree of good taste.

This year not all of the major hotels kept to tradition. Claridge’s main Christmas tree this year is a glass mix, apparently an homage to shoe designer Jimmy Choo, perhaps fitting for its proximity to Bond Street but not something to cheer children up on their annual fancy outings.

Luckily, the bragging forts of Christmas remain. Christmas decorations at the Ritz on Piccadilly will make Tchaikovsky’s Sugar Plum Fairy feel right at home. Traditionalists still have a safe space, albeit an expensive one.

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