More about Christmas

Xmastoys

Christmas, part deux.

There’s Charlie and Billie ready for Christmas. Charlie’s been the Christmas Elf for decades now, and when Billie came we decided he’d be the Frost Elf.

One feature that crops up often in many sources is the traditional use of greenery, and this seems to have been retained by many in the Regency. The traditional greenery of Christmas, going back to the middle ages, were rosemary, bay, holly, laurel, and mistletoe. Along with the aspects of fire and light in the darkest days, evergreens were either fertility symbols, or symbols of eternal life, or both.

Candles

A poem from 1825 goes as follows.
“Bring me a garland of holly,
Rosemary, ivy, and bays;
Gravity’s nothing but folly,
Till after the Christmas Day.

1825 is after the regency and into the Christmas revival period, but Louis Simond, a traveler in England in 1810 noted the greenery in all the cottages at Christmas, so it was a custom among the simpler people. It was, however, apparently considered unlucky to bring greenery into the house before Christmas Eve, so this would have been a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day ceremony for those who observed it.

Mistl
Mistletoe, of course, was the other traditional plant with roots back into the Dark Ages and Druid magic, but I have a picture of kissing under the mistletoe which dates from 1794, so did it become vulgar during the regency and confined to servants’ hall and cottage, or not? I don’t know.

Mistletoe didn’t last forever. When a man took a kiss, he also plucked a berry. Once the berries were gone, the practice was over.

I’ve not found any mention of an actual Yule log in a regency source, though as I said, it’s possible that Jane Austen’s “Christmas fire” referred to it. Most Regency fireplaces would not be big enough for a real Yule log, which was brought in on Christmas Eve and lit, and was expected to last through the twelve days of Christmas. It was lit from a piece of last year’s log and is a clear remnant from the pre-Christian festival of Yule, the midwinter ceremony of fire and light. As we can see from Austen, however, the connection of Christmas with a roaring fire was alive and well.

Candles link into this. There was a tradition of a Christmas candle that was lit on Christmas Eve and was supposed to last throughout Christmas Day. Again, this is not something I’ve seen specific reference to in a Regency text.

The game Snapdragon was one of those good old traditions — even if it is one that would be banned today as highly dangerous! Raisins were soaked in brandy in a large shallow bowl. The lights were turned out, and the brandy lit. People had to try to grasp a raisin and eat it without burning themselves. I gather speed is the key. Don’t try this at home!

And what of Christmas carols? Well, they don’t seem to have been popular in the Regency. There certainly are ones that predate the period, but if sung at all then, it was in church as hymns. The other sort of singing was the wassail, where groups would go around to houses singing what were usually frank begging songs, hoping for some food, some drink, and some money.

A variant on this was the mummers, an ancient tradition. Groups of lower class men dressed up in traditional costumes went around singing or performing a short play, again hoping for money. Some of the plays were traditional, and perhaps went back to the middle ages, but they were also generally updated with recent heroes such as General Wolfe and Nelson.

This might be connected to one English Christmas tradition that was present in the Regency and is still alive today – the Christmas pantomime. The pantomime usually opened* on Boxing Day. Joseph Grimaldi, the famous clown who lived from 1779 to 1837 regularly performed in one at Drury Lane, and Astley’s Amphitheater also usually had a special Christmas spectacular.

Christmas really was Christmastide — the season from Chrismas Eve to the Epiphany. But other Wenches are going to post about that.

Just yesterday came across another example of a Regency Christmas. From The Diary of a Lincolnshire Farmer’s Daughter, written in 1811. (The work this young woman lists makes me exhausted just imagining it! She was Elizabeth Corney, and 23 at the time. At age 39 she married George Osborn. He was 8 years her junior and a farmer. She died in 1862 at the age of 73. She never had children. George lived for another 23 years. In 1882, he was living in Belton, Rutland, with a middle aged niece who was presumably his housekeeper and one female servant.) Walker’s Books, Ltd Oakham, Rutland. ISBN 0955119707.

Monday 23rd.
Mild pleasant morning – arose at five – killed eight geese – stripped four before breakfast – drawed half a dozen of them – giblets cleaned and all done by five – ready to attend the gentlemen Mr. Green and Mr. Ranhy who came to tea – passed the evening very pleasantly.

Tuesday 24th.
Very busy this morning – packing up the geese and giblets – sent them in – baked bread and Yule cakes – cleaned the parlour – two gipsies called with violins and tambourines – played several tunes in a very masterly style – delightful to hear – played at cards.

Wednesday 25th.
Christmas day – sharp frost – did not go to church – Mr. Cooper brought his bill – had two large plumb puddings and two geese for dinner – received a parcel of prints from Mr. Mawby and a letter from my cousin Ann – Mr. Jacques as usual – reading and writing in the evening.

Thursday 26th.
Cold morning – finished making our gowns – a number of trade’s people called for their Christmas boxes – lined the purple gown’s sleeves – three more musicians favoured us with a call but very inferior to the above party – played at cards as usual.

Friday 27th.
Sharp frosty morning – dressed and intended walking to Mr. Pickworth’s to dine but was prevented by the fall of snow – very much disappointed – in addition to the musical list, we were visited by a party of Morris dancers – very smartly dressed – each acting their part as they entered – danced a reel, sung a duet and the whole was performed remarkably well.

SaturdaY 28th.
The weather very unpleasant – snowed fast — did not rise till a late hour – got all our work done and dressed before dinner, which is rather unusual for a Saturday -was obliged to sit and work by the kitchen fire on account of the smke — covered my journal for the ensuing year – played at cards in the evening.

Doverangel1_1
However we look at it, it’s the season of light. May it be bright for you.

Wfcoverframe

Jo –> my most recent Christmas-set book.

48 thoughts on “More about Christmas”

  1. Thank you, Jo. I am always fascinated by diaries. When I worked at a historical society museum, I had access to a few and it was fun to read between the lines. Weather is nearly always mentioned. If I were keeping a diary I don’t know that I’d remark upon it, cocooned in my nice warm house and not expected to go out in the yard and kill eight geese!

    Reply
  2. Thank you, Jo. I am always fascinated by diaries. When I worked at a historical society museum, I had access to a few and it was fun to read between the lines. Weather is nearly always mentioned. If I were keeping a diary I don’t know that I’d remark upon it, cocooned in my nice warm house and not expected to go out in the yard and kill eight geese!

    Reply
  3. Thank you, Jo. I am always fascinated by diaries. When I worked at a historical society museum, I had access to a few and it was fun to read between the lines. Weather is nearly always mentioned. If I were keeping a diary I don’t know that I’d remark upon it, cocooned in my nice warm house and not expected to go out in the yard and kill eight geese!

    Reply
  4. Thank you, Jo. I am always fascinated by diaries. When I worked at a historical society museum, I had access to a few and it was fun to read between the lines. Weather is nearly always mentioned. If I were keeping a diary I don’t know that I’d remark upon it, cocooned in my nice warm house and not expected to go out in the yard and kill eight geese!

    Reply
  5. Jo–
    Even if I wasn’t such a wimp, killing and cleaning 8 geese is enough to send me to the fainting couch! Miss Elizabeth was clearly a very energetic young lady.
    I like that that her story also underlines that if a girl wasn’t married by her early 20s, she was doomed to spinsterhood. And the marrying a younger man part is quite appealing, too. 🙂
    Mary Jo, who also liked the musicians and dancers who called. A great treat in the days before radios and phonographs!

    Reply
  6. Jo–
    Even if I wasn’t such a wimp, killing and cleaning 8 geese is enough to send me to the fainting couch! Miss Elizabeth was clearly a very energetic young lady.
    I like that that her story also underlines that if a girl wasn’t married by her early 20s, she was doomed to spinsterhood. And the marrying a younger man part is quite appealing, too. 🙂
    Mary Jo, who also liked the musicians and dancers who called. A great treat in the days before radios and phonographs!

    Reply
  7. Jo–
    Even if I wasn’t such a wimp, killing and cleaning 8 geese is enough to send me to the fainting couch! Miss Elizabeth was clearly a very energetic young lady.
    I like that that her story also underlines that if a girl wasn’t married by her early 20s, she was doomed to spinsterhood. And the marrying a younger man part is quite appealing, too. 🙂
    Mary Jo, who also liked the musicians and dancers who called. A great treat in the days before radios and phonographs!

    Reply
  8. Jo–
    Even if I wasn’t such a wimp, killing and cleaning 8 geese is enough to send me to the fainting couch! Miss Elizabeth was clearly a very energetic young lady.
    I like that that her story also underlines that if a girl wasn’t married by her early 20s, she was doomed to spinsterhood. And the marrying a younger man part is quite appealing, too. 🙂
    Mary Jo, who also liked the musicians and dancers who called. A great treat in the days before radios and phonographs!

    Reply
  9. Maggie, I love diaries, too. Ones like this — only one volume and not much juicy detail — aren’t always published, which I think is a shame. I think they should all at least be on the net. Though they lack detail, cumulatively, they give a rich picture of a time.
    Yes, Mary Jo, we realize that small amusements and varieties were huge in past times.
    Interestingly, last night a CBC radio program called Ideas started a series on mumming. It still goes on in Newfoundland and other places. I don’t know if it’s available as a podcast.
    I had a story involving mummers in one of Signet’s regency anthologies. A MUMMERS’ PLAY.
    Jo, back to the word mines to untangle Darien, Lady Thea etc.

    Reply
  10. Maggie, I love diaries, too. Ones like this — only one volume and not much juicy detail — aren’t always published, which I think is a shame. I think they should all at least be on the net. Though they lack detail, cumulatively, they give a rich picture of a time.
    Yes, Mary Jo, we realize that small amusements and varieties were huge in past times.
    Interestingly, last night a CBC radio program called Ideas started a series on mumming. It still goes on in Newfoundland and other places. I don’t know if it’s available as a podcast.
    I had a story involving mummers in one of Signet’s regency anthologies. A MUMMERS’ PLAY.
    Jo, back to the word mines to untangle Darien, Lady Thea etc.

    Reply
  11. Maggie, I love diaries, too. Ones like this — only one volume and not much juicy detail — aren’t always published, which I think is a shame. I think they should all at least be on the net. Though they lack detail, cumulatively, they give a rich picture of a time.
    Yes, Mary Jo, we realize that small amusements and varieties were huge in past times.
    Interestingly, last night a CBC radio program called Ideas started a series on mumming. It still goes on in Newfoundland and other places. I don’t know if it’s available as a podcast.
    I had a story involving mummers in one of Signet’s regency anthologies. A MUMMERS’ PLAY.
    Jo, back to the word mines to untangle Darien, Lady Thea etc.

    Reply
  12. Maggie, I love diaries, too. Ones like this — only one volume and not much juicy detail — aren’t always published, which I think is a shame. I think they should all at least be on the net. Though they lack detail, cumulatively, they give a rich picture of a time.
    Yes, Mary Jo, we realize that small amusements and varieties were huge in past times.
    Interestingly, last night a CBC radio program called Ideas started a series on mumming. It still goes on in Newfoundland and other places. I don’t know if it’s available as a podcast.
    I had a story involving mummers in one of Signet’s regency anthologies. A MUMMERS’ PLAY.
    Jo, back to the word mines to untangle Darien, Lady Thea etc.

    Reply
  13. Jo,
    Just fascinating reading, and thanks for posting. Diaries are just wonderful. My fav Christmas books are yours – Winter Fire, and especially Christmas Angel (because it was a Rogue story, of course). Cannot wait for June and Lady Thea’s story – The Rogues live on – Long Live the Rogues!!!
    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays,
    Joy

    Reply
  14. Jo,
    Just fascinating reading, and thanks for posting. Diaries are just wonderful. My fav Christmas books are yours – Winter Fire, and especially Christmas Angel (because it was a Rogue story, of course). Cannot wait for June and Lady Thea’s story – The Rogues live on – Long Live the Rogues!!!
    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays,
    Joy

    Reply
  15. Jo,
    Just fascinating reading, and thanks for posting. Diaries are just wonderful. My fav Christmas books are yours – Winter Fire, and especially Christmas Angel (because it was a Rogue story, of course). Cannot wait for June and Lady Thea’s story – The Rogues live on – Long Live the Rogues!!!
    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays,
    Joy

    Reply
  16. Jo,
    Just fascinating reading, and thanks for posting. Diaries are just wonderful. My fav Christmas books are yours – Winter Fire, and especially Christmas Angel (because it was a Rogue story, of course). Cannot wait for June and Lady Thea’s story – The Rogues live on – Long Live the Rogues!!!
    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays,
    Joy

    Reply
  17. ” It was, however, apparently considered unlucky to bring greenery into the house before Christmas Eve,”…
    I should think it would be VERY unlucky to have dead drying greenery hanging about with all those candles and fires! I trust they carried it out right after Christmas as well.
    Who dresses your lovely dolls? That’s quite a costuming job!

    Reply
  18. ” It was, however, apparently considered unlucky to bring greenery into the house before Christmas Eve,”…
    I should think it would be VERY unlucky to have dead drying greenery hanging about with all those candles and fires! I trust they carried it out right after Christmas as well.
    Who dresses your lovely dolls? That’s quite a costuming job!

    Reply
  19. ” It was, however, apparently considered unlucky to bring greenery into the house before Christmas Eve,”…
    I should think it would be VERY unlucky to have dead drying greenery hanging about with all those candles and fires! I trust they carried it out right after Christmas as well.
    Who dresses your lovely dolls? That’s quite a costuming job!

    Reply
  20. ” It was, however, apparently considered unlucky to bring greenery into the house before Christmas Eve,”…
    I should think it would be VERY unlucky to have dead drying greenery hanging about with all those candles and fires! I trust they carried it out right after Christmas as well.
    Who dresses your lovely dolls? That’s quite a costuming job!

    Reply
  21. Good point about the bad luck inherent in bringing in flammable greens to dry out in winter! I guess the ladies whose skirts caught fire when they were warming themselves were more Victorian, with larger skirts, but dried evergreens can almost explode into flames if set off. A sobering thought.
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  22. Good point about the bad luck inherent in bringing in flammable greens to dry out in winter! I guess the ladies whose skirts caught fire when they were warming themselves were more Victorian, with larger skirts, but dried evergreens can almost explode into flames if set off. A sobering thought.
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  23. Good point about the bad luck inherent in bringing in flammable greens to dry out in winter! I guess the ladies whose skirts caught fire when they were warming themselves were more Victorian, with larger skirts, but dried evergreens can almost explode into flames if set off. A sobering thought.
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  24. Good point about the bad luck inherent in bringing in flammable greens to dry out in winter! I guess the ladies whose skirts caught fire when they were warming themselves were more Victorian, with larger skirts, but dried evergreens can almost explode into flames if set off. A sobering thought.
    Mary Jo

    Reply
  25. Jo,
    I’ve so enjoyed your Christmas posts. Thank you.
    I didn’t know about the ‘plucking a berry’ tradition. Best get under the Mistletoe fast, eh?
    Do have a question. How uncommon was it for a man to marry a woman who was his senior?
    Nina, glad her Christmas celebrations do not include killing and stripping geese.

    Reply
  26. Jo,
    I’ve so enjoyed your Christmas posts. Thank you.
    I didn’t know about the ‘plucking a berry’ tradition. Best get under the Mistletoe fast, eh?
    Do have a question. How uncommon was it for a man to marry a woman who was his senior?
    Nina, glad her Christmas celebrations do not include killing and stripping geese.

    Reply
  27. Jo,
    I’ve so enjoyed your Christmas posts. Thank you.
    I didn’t know about the ‘plucking a berry’ tradition. Best get under the Mistletoe fast, eh?
    Do have a question. How uncommon was it for a man to marry a woman who was his senior?
    Nina, glad her Christmas celebrations do not include killing and stripping geese.

    Reply
  28. Jo,
    I’ve so enjoyed your Christmas posts. Thank you.
    I didn’t know about the ‘plucking a berry’ tradition. Best get under the Mistletoe fast, eh?
    Do have a question. How uncommon was it for a man to marry a woman who was his senior?
    Nina, glad her Christmas celebrations do not include killing and stripping geese.

    Reply
  29. Thanks for the comments and feedback, everyone.
    Nina, I don’t know if there are stats on ages of couples in any particular period, but it certaintly wasn’t unknown or taboo for women to marry younger men.
    There could be many reasons, from true love to her having property or skills he needed to make his way in life.
    For anyone on my e-mail list, I will be sending out a newsletter, but there won’t be a special Christmas page this year. I’m just too busy with the MIP. So last year’s is still up for anyone who hasn’t see it.
    http://www.jobev.com/xmas2005.html
    Enjoy the season, everyone!
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  30. Thanks for the comments and feedback, everyone.
    Nina, I don’t know if there are stats on ages of couples in any particular period, but it certaintly wasn’t unknown or taboo for women to marry younger men.
    There could be many reasons, from true love to her having property or skills he needed to make his way in life.
    For anyone on my e-mail list, I will be sending out a newsletter, but there won’t be a special Christmas page this year. I’m just too busy with the MIP. So last year’s is still up for anyone who hasn’t see it.
    http://www.jobev.com/xmas2005.html
    Enjoy the season, everyone!
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  31. Thanks for the comments and feedback, everyone.
    Nina, I don’t know if there are stats on ages of couples in any particular period, but it certaintly wasn’t unknown or taboo for women to marry younger men.
    There could be many reasons, from true love to her having property or skills he needed to make his way in life.
    For anyone on my e-mail list, I will be sending out a newsletter, but there won’t be a special Christmas page this year. I’m just too busy with the MIP. So last year’s is still up for anyone who hasn’t see it.
    http://www.jobev.com/xmas2005.html
    Enjoy the season, everyone!
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  32. Thanks for the comments and feedback, everyone.
    Nina, I don’t know if there are stats on ages of couples in any particular period, but it certaintly wasn’t unknown or taboo for women to marry younger men.
    There could be many reasons, from true love to her having property or skills he needed to make his way in life.
    For anyone on my e-mail list, I will be sending out a newsletter, but there won’t be a special Christmas page this year. I’m just too busy with the MIP. So last year’s is still up for anyone who hasn’t see it.
    http://www.jobev.com/xmas2005.html
    Enjoy the season, everyone!
    Jo 🙂

    Reply

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