News and Features

Stories from the Archive - Christmas

This month's Stories from the Archive looks at all things festive, as we explore Christmassy items from our collection.

We dig through snowdrifts to unearth Christmassy objects from the Glyndebourne archive.

From the carol-singing children of Werther to tobogganing in Intermezzo and ice-skating in Vanessa, the bustling Christmas Eve market in La bohème, Amahl’s magical encounter with the Three Kings in Amahl and the Night Visitors, or of course Hindemith’s Long Christmas Dinner, there’s plenty of festive spirit to be found in opera.

But there’s just as much festive cheer to be found in the opera house we discover this month…

Photograph of Glyndebourne in the Snow

If you’re an opera house based in a city then snow isn’t too much of a problem, even in the toughest of winters. But it’s quite a different story if you’re based among the hilly Downs in the middle of the Sussex countryside. On several occasions over the years Glyndebourne has been snowed-in, with the ascent up from Lewes and descent down into the estate itself far too treacherous for staff to risk the journey into work.

2010 was one of those years, with a snowfall deep enough to close the company for several days. Gardeners walked in from Lewes to check things over and take photographs, including some lovely views of the opera house under a blanket of snow. In another year, it started snowing just as the staff Christmas lunch was being served, and everyone gulped down their Christmas pudding as quickly as possible and dashed to set off home before they got trapped at Glyndebourne for the holidays.

Some of our Head Gardener Kevin Martin’s snowy photos of Glyndebourne are available as Christmas cards from our shop.

Glyndebourne Christmas Cards

Christmas is the one time of year when Glyndebourne reverts from being an opera house to a family home, as staff leave for the holidays and the estate is suddenly and unusually quiet. Under George and Mary Christie there was a tradition for all the estate staff to gather before departing to sing carols around the Christmas tree in the front hall – something the gardeners tried very hard to get out of but never succeeded, always rounded up by a determined Lady Christie!

During the World War II Christmas was even quieter than usual. Audrey and the Christie children were in Canada, though Glyndebourne did have its only rather unexpected evacuees in the form of several flamingos who spent the war years on the lake – unlikely splashes of pink against the snowy landscape.

The Christie family returned in 1943 and cook Hilda Tozer remembers the celebrations being particularly special and lively, including a huge Christmas party in the Organ Room as well as a pantomime in which John Christie was cast as the villain.

From the early 1950s until 1967 Glyndebourne produced its own Christmas cards – a tradition that started again in 1994 and continues today. Originally these featured costume sketches and designs from Glyndebourne productions, including illustrations by Maurice Sendak, Oliver Messel and Osbert Lancaster. More recently watercolours and photographs have been commissioned for the cards, with artists including Angus McBean and Julian Sutherland-Beatson. You can explore our range of Glyndebourne-inspired Christmas cards in our shop.

Glyndebourne Christmas Vouchers

‘Greetings cards, which can be exchanged for tickets for the Glyndebourne Festival 1938, form a new and original gift for all music and opera lovers. Recipients of these Greetings Cards may choose the performance or performances they wish to attend. Greetings cards, artistically printed, are obtainable at the price of £2 per seat.’

In 1936 Glyndebourne launched a new scheme – selling opera vouchers in the form of cards to be given as Christmas presents, exchangeable at Glyndebourne’s ticket agents in Lewes or London for seats for the performance of the recipient’s choice.

The scheme lasted up until the war, returning afterwards as a more generalised gift-voucher setup. Who introduced it is unknown, but it seems likely that it may have been the brain-child of the ever-pragmatic John Christie, keen to get some revenue in early to help fund productions for the following summer.

Glyndebourne still offers gift vouchers, which can be used to buy tickets for performances or programmes, and purchases from the Glyndebourne Shop, find out more about our gift vouchers.


Written by Alexandra Coghlan and Julia Aries
Image credits: Glyndebourne in the snow, photos by Kevin Martin | Archive objects, photos by James Bellorini

Looking for the perfect gift for the opera lover in your life? Check out Glyndebourne Shop’s Christmas collection…

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