Happy Christmas!

Anne here, wishing you all a safe and happy Christmas. 
At this time of year, we wenches go into "Christmastide mode" where we take it in turns to post a short message every day through the twelve days of Christmas, starting from today. 

Here in Australia, Christmas Day is coming to a close, while in other parts of the world it's just starting. For many of us, it's been a quiet day, with Lockdown preventing large gatherings of friends and relatives. Still, I hope you manage to have a happy day, regardless.

SnapdragonAs many of you know, I've often presented a Christmas quiz and others about Regency terms and food and games, and one that has often come up is the game of Snapdragon — where you snatch burning raisins from a plate or dish. Here's a fascinating post that not only explores the history of Snapdragon, but tests it for "health and safety." and comes up with a surprising conclusion. 

So that's it from me. Happy Christmas all — see you next year.



Twelfth Night

1280px-Mummers _by_Robert_Seymour _1836
Just calculating which night is Twelfth Night is a madness of calendars and churches. I am afraid to even say with certainty that the twelfth day of Christmas is Epiphany, since not everyone agrees. (Susan King had an explanation or two about the date
) So I will not declare today, January 6th, anything at all but will talk about Twelfth Night in general.

960px-Haydel_King_Cake_New_Orleans_Feb_2019Way back in 567 the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany were declared a sacred, festive season. The Tudors, naturally enjoying festivities, decided Epiphany was the start of still another season called Epiphanytide to extend the fun and games. They hid a bean or pea inside a Twelfth-night cake and whoever found the pea in their slice became king or queen of Twelfth-night and led the feast and fun.

The feasting and fun included Christmas carols, mumming (a blog all of its own about costumed Yule logcharacters!), wassail and wassailing, and king cake (a New Orleans tradition to this day. Our esteemed Jo Beverley had more to say here). In many places, decorations had to come down on this day, but this was also the day to add the kings to the nativity scene. In earlier times, Christmas trees were decorated with fruits and nuts—hard to come by and expensive—so when the tree came down, everyone gathered to feast on the ornaments. I kind of prefer that to stuffing all that junk back in boxes to be stored for another year! Of course, this was also the night the Yule Log was removed, leaving only a flame to light the next fire.

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was written to be played on this night’s revels. That’s a rather fine mummer’s play! A little bit more about mummers here .

R_Staines_Malvolio_Shakespeare_Twelfth_Night(although this image appears to be Italian and a lovely spring day, not exactly an English 12th night!)

I’m not sure I have the energy to carry festivities for twelve entire nights! Christmas and New Years are about my limit. I wonder if in medieval times this wasn’t a way of the poor squeezing just a little bit more food out of the wealthy during a time of year when food was hard to come by? They could dress in costumes, put on plays, and the wealthy would provide banquets for the entertainment. Food has certainly been a large part of Christmastide, with little to do with the perceived origin of the holiday.

But today we all go back to work, so I’m guessing king cakes aren’t on anyone’s agenda. When do you take your tree down?

The Kissing Bough

Kissing boughby Mary Jo

If you've read many Christmas Regency romances, I'm sure you've encountered the kissing bough.  Christmas trees didn't become common in Britain until the Victorian age, and were brought into fashion by the Royal Family's German connections. 

But the kissing bough has deep roots in British history and is part of the tradition of bringing evergreens into the house at the holiday season.  It's essentially a globe of greens with a bunch of mistletoe fastened to the bottom. Traditionally one white mistletoe berry was removed each time there was a kiss.  I presume that festive householders would refresh the berries as necessary!  The image at the right is from the North Pole site, with instructions on how to make your own kissing bough.  

Over time, kissing boughs became more elaborate, with ribbons and candles and fruit.  I thought it would be fun to go to YouTube and find a couple of videos of people making kissing boughs.  This first is from English Heritage and goes behind the scenes of Kenilworth Castle to see how a Tudor kissing bough is made.  (It helps if you can wander into your knot garden and cut off some rose hips. <G>)

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Christmas in Miniature

by Mary Jo

There is something very charming about miniatures–ask any doll collector.  The beautiful Cotswold village of Bourton-on-the-Water is famous for having a detailed model of the village itself–and there is even a model within the model. <G>

Bourton model village

And in the Baltimore area, we have Christmas train gardens!  The idea was new to me when I moved to Maryland, but train garden charm is irresistible.  They were often in firehouses, where the firefighters used time between calls to do the painstaking work of setting up elaborate landscapes of town and country and multiple trains.

Train garden overall

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Settling into January

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

The holiday season is full of energy, buzz, decorations, fun, stress, deliciously decadent food, gathering with family and friends, receiving good surprises and sometimes disappointment.  The season is lovely–and it's also lovely when it's over and life goes back to normal!

At least, that's the case for this introvert.  Yesterday with the help of a friend and two of the cats (see pictures), I took down the tree and Reggie looking at the treepacked the ornaments away. 

I loved putting up the tree in December and the sparkly lights and ornaments with their own stories, but now I'm happy to have more open space in the living room again, less concern that a cat will bring the tree down, and I'm diligently picking up widely scattered strands of shiny tinsel.  

Recently a friend mentioned a book in which kids who wished it was Christmas all year round got their wish–and found they didn't like it.  Holidays are meant to be Smokey and the tinselspecial, and that means time limited.  

I usually like January because it's quiet, a good time for working and reading and nesting.  How about you?  Do you enjoy the end of the Christmastide season?  Or do you wish it could be Christmas all year round?

Mary Jo