Exhibitions for the festive season

Deedee Cuddihy

Deedee Cuddihy looks at what's on in Scotland's museums and galleries.

The Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh is pulling out all the stops to make families feel welcome during the Christmas period: the only day it won't be opening its doors over the school holidays is Christmas Day itself.

Its major new exhibition, "Over the Threshold - 400 Years of the Scottish Home", a show crammed with fascinating photographs, information and objects, runs until April 6. Many of the exhibits are borrowed from smaller museums elsewhere in Scotland.

The story begins in the countryside, in the days when people made virtually everything they needed themselves, using materials they found close at hand. There are brooms made from bunches of twigs bound together and a small sieve fashioned from a shell with neat holes bored in it (a technique also used by Pacific Islanders).

When people moved to the city, all but a few put up with conditions that we would never tolerate. Separate rooms for sleeping in and beds were a luxury for all but the rich. The section on "cludgies, shankies and loos" is particularly fascinating.

The Royal Museum has organised a full range of children's activities including its annual art competition, a Christmas Tree Trail, a lantern slide show and story-telling (tel: 0131 225 7534).

"Russian Gold: Treasures of the Warrior Tombs" has just opened at the Burrell Collection in Glasgow, its only UK venue. It features 200 priceless items of weaponry, jewellery, ornaments and so on, excavated from ancient burial mounds in Southern Russia.

Reckoned to be the finest exhibition of its kind in the West, the objects are shown in a spot-lit, darkened environment and a tomb - with skeleton - has been recreated to show how the pieces were placed at the time of burial. Russian Gold runs until March 31 (tel: 0141 649 7151).

Shetland Museum in Lerwick also has an exhibition of fascinating treasure - all found on Shetland by local people during the past 100 years or so.

The 150 items on display, which include everything from a gold Scandinavian arm band to a 300-year-old stone loom weight marked with a cross, are normally held at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh: they've been loaned back to Shetland for the first time.

"We're getting a tremendous response to this show," said a museum spokesperson. "We knew a lot about the items already; for instance, that a gold bracelet was found on a small island in 1890 by some kids playing on the beach, and that a Norse ring was discovered when someone was cutting peat. But we're getting folk in who are close relatives of the finders and have more details to add to the stories."

The show runs until March (tel: 01595 695057).

Tankerness House Museum in Kirkwall, Orkney is showing what curator Bryce Wilson describes as some "very special" hardwood furniture by a local craftsman, most of it for sale. At the same time, old-fashioned toys from the museum's own collection will also be on display. Both shows run until Christmas Eve (tel: 01856 873191).

There is still a chance to catch one of the pre-Christmas Saturdays of free family activities and events at the McManus Galleries in Dundee.

The activities will include card and decoration-making, music, singing and a Santa trail - all providing a great excuse, if you need one, to have a look at some of the fascinating and beautifully laid out collections (tel: 01382 432020).

Staff at Callendar House Museum in Falkirk will be roasting geese over a spit in the Georgian kitchen and demonstrating other festive culinary arts from a bygone age, from Monday to Saturday until Christmas Eve.

A huge tree has been decorated, seasonal music will be playing and an exhibition of American folk art is on show. Entrance fees are Pounds 1. 65 or 85p or family ticket Pounds 4 (tel: 01324 503770).

Junior art critics will find much to exercise their minds over the holidays at the Smith Art Gallery and Museum in Stirling, where Brave Art II, a huge show of creative work by primary pupils, is on display until January 19.

Children please note: if you have a letter for Santa, you can hand it into the Smith where staff will pass it on to Hamish the Highland Cow, resident there last summer, who - The TES Scotland is reliably informed - will be helping to guide Santa around Scotland this Christmas (tel: 01786 471917).

Speaking of Santa, Rozelle House Gallery in Alloway near Ayr has an excellent range of contemporary Scottish crafts, all of it for sale from Pounds 2. 50 upwards, on show throughout December and January (tel: 01292 445447).

On the same site is the Maclaurin Art Gallery where the annual show of paintings, ceramics, jewellery and wood carvings features well-chosen and interesting work by English, Scottish and Irish artists (tel: 01292 443708).

The magical "Spirit of Christmas" ride has started its seasonal run at New Lanark, the 200-year-old conservation village and nominated World Heritage Site (tel: 01555 661345, Lanark train station within walking distance).

On this Disney-style ride, find out how Christmas was celebrated in days gone by and watch Ebenezer Scrooge being scared out of his wits by the Ghost of Christmas Past. All-in tickets (Pounds 3.45 adult, Pounds 2.25 childconcession, Pounds 9.95 family) include access to the visitor centre, village store, historic millworkers' house and so on.

Entrance to the village is free. However, the possibilities for spending money are endless and if you're too tired to go home at the end of the day, you can stay the night in New Lanark's youth hostel.

The presents have been opened, too many sweeties have been consumed and the children are up to "high doh". If you live close to Dumfries Museum, you can pack them off to a Tree Life workshop where, between 10.30am and 12.30pm on December 27 or 28 or January 3 or 4 (Pounds 3 per session), they can enjoy printing, drawing and painting plants and animals for display on the museum's tree banners (tel: 01387 253374).

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