We love Geoff Stonebanks, one of our contributors on the gardening front, who throughout the year brings us colour, ideas, inspiration, and advice about gardening. But Geoff also happens to be a massive Christmas fan and over the years has curated a large collection of Christmas decorations. His addiction to Christmas long predates his gardening successes and he is possibly one of the biggest Christmas fans in the county …or maybe even in the UK!
A childhood Christmas
Some of Geoff’s earliest pieces date back to the 1930s, along with a large chunk from his childhood, through the late 1950s and 1960s, many items were purchased from the local Woolworth’s store in Banbury, Oxfordshire, close to his parent’s public house, The Dolphin, which he would decorate every year. The white plastic fairy was one of those purchases and amazingly, still looks good atop the tree today, despite being placed in the smoke-filled lounge bar of the pub for over 25 years! Customers used to come from far and wide to sit by the open log fires in both the lounge and public bars and appreciate his efforts, along with the alcoholic beverages on sale!
Geoff still has some of the original packaging from Woolworth’s decorations bought in the mid 1970s, carefully retained each year and used again. He also has many individual pieces that have significant memories from his childhood, like the yellow glass church, bought by his maternal grandmother back in, probably, 1962. At this time the family were living in a country pub in Kingham, near Chipping Norton, and the local Post Office, over the road, used to sell a range of beautiful pieces each Christmas, some of which were purchased each year, all very carefully packed away each January.
Whenever he went on holiday, Geoff was prone to seek out Christmas items from abroad too. On a visit to Prague in the 1990s he found some pretty wire angels and other decorations dating from the 1930s, which he brought home and now adorn a small vintage tree with many other old and precious pieces. This vintage tree itself is another survivor from Woolworths back in ’60s. The tree was used in the family lounge back then and you can see it on their TV in the lounge in 1968 and again in Geoff’s home in 2023.
Christmas in America
Back in the 1980s, Geoff’s visits to the States included many visits to the popular year-round Christmas shops, which were very prevalent there then, many subsequently appearing in the UK in the following years. The prime decorations usually on sale then were wooden pieces, many of which found their way back into his collection across the pond.
Another American influence from Geoff’s annual Christmas trips, to spend time with special friends in Washington DC, through the late 1990s, generated an interest in the magical official White House Christmas ornaments, produced each year since 1981 by the White House Historical Association. Collecting and giving these unique ornaments has become a holiday tradition for millions of Americans. Geoff joined the club and now has every decoration issued from 1994 to 2023. Each one celebrates the story of a different President of the US, the White House pictured is the 2018 decoration, honouring President Harry S. Truman’s administration and you can see a selection of the others in Geoff’s collection, notably the 2020 piece honouring the J. F. K. Presidency.
As well as the beautifully purchased items, Geoff has a collection of homemade items, like the unique knitted tree.
A few years ago, he saw an image posted on Facebook by a friend and messaged her to see if she would make one for him too. Margaret Elsy duly obliged and knitted the pictured tree which she posted from Newcastle for Geoff to add to his collection.
In recent years Geoff’s notoriety, in connection with Christmas, has seen him appear on national television with Holly and Phil on This Morning and he has been included in a Christmas documentary on C5 called “Incredible Christmas Trees and How to decorate them”, both back in 2020, then on the Jeremy Vine show last Christmas joining a debate talking about tinsel. BBC SE Today has filmed his collection twice, most recently last Christmas.
A national German TV company, ZDF, filmed and broadcast a short film made with Geoff on their lunchtime magazine programme “Mittag Magazine” last Christmas in Germany! Who knows what 2023 will bring.
Follow Geoff’s Christmas adventures at www.geoffschristmas.co.uk
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