Christmas traditions in the time of Jane Austen

Regency Christmas dinner complete with pudding

The Regency period of English history was technically only the years 1811-1820, but practically ran the adult life of King George IV, from the late 1700’s through to 1830, and is sometimes referred to today known as the “long Regency.” Christmas in those days was most definitely not the commercial holiday we celebrate today. There was no mad rush to shop for the latest gadgets, no stockings hung by the fire with care, and certainly no white-bearded gentleman with a sleigh and reindeer flying through the night skies.

Attending church service on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day was a must for the English in Regency times, although only a few of the carols we sing now would have been sung in church then as hymns, such as The First Nowell.(Yes, that spelling is the correct one!)

Instead of everyone looking forward to just December 24th or the 25th, a Regency Christmas was a much longer celebration of dancing and dining spread out over the period of ‘Christmastide,’ from Christmas Eve to January 6th, Twelfth Night. (Hence, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas.’)

Preparations, however, began long before December 24th. ‘Stir-up Sunday,’ the Sunday before Advent, marked the unofficial start to the Christmas Season, so-called because of the traditional church service held that day, but also becoming the day that Christmas puddings and cakes were prepared, in order to allow enough time for them to ‘mature’ (which called for regular doses of brandy!)

Jane AustenChristmas was a time to reflect upon one’s religious faith and to enjoy the companionship of friends and family. Jane Austen mentions Christmas in each of her six major novels. For instance, in Emma, she wrote, “At Christmas everybody invites their friends about them, and people think little of even the worst weather.” In addition, the aristocracy and the landed gentry were expected to entertain their tenants and neighbors and show generosity through charitable acts.

During the four-week period from Advent until Epiphany, the upper classes held balls, parties, dinners and other social events, welcoming both family and friends. Since everyone was usually together, it was also a time for courtships and weddings. Even though there was no Santa Claus, December 6th, St. Nicholas’s Day, was marked by the giving of small gifts. There was no exchange of presents on the 25th itself, but giving ‘Christmas Boxes’ of food and gently-used items of clothing and household goods to servants and to charity was the custom on St. Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas, now celebrated as ‘Boxing Day.’

Holly, ivy, evergreen and laurel were brought into the house on Christmas Eve, since it was considered unlucky to bring greenery inside before Christmas. These remained in place until the Epiphany on January 6, when they were taken down and often burned to prevent bad luck for the rest of the year. Indoor decorated trees were rare and found only in a few houses of wealthy families with German connections, where they were a long-standing tradition.

Of course, we can’t forget mistletoe, although the custom was more likely practiced below stairs than above. (The requirement of plucking a berry every time a kiss was stolen beneath the bough was already in place, and once the berries were gone, alas, the kissing was over.)

Christmas Day meant Christmas dinner, with the best a family could afford…turkey, goose (the most traditional), mutton, or venison might be served, and for the rich, the table could be laden with all of these at once. A Christmas dinner would not be deemed complete without the aforementioned pudding. The pudding would be doused with even more brandy and then set aflame, a key theatrical aspect of the holiday celebration.

(For the brave of heart among you, or for those who just enjoy setting their food on fire, some traditional holiday pudding recipes can be found at: http://britishfood.about.com/od/christmas/a/xmaspud.htm )

Epiphany on January 6th marked the official end of Christmas festivities. It was yet another feast day to mark the coming of the Magi, and as a result was the traditional day to exchange gifts.

Joseph-Grimaldi_1630699cOne final English Christmas tradition that was present in Jane Austen’s time and is still alive today is 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 Theatre in London, a theatre often visited by characters in Regency romances.

A Short History of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day has always been celebrated with candy, flowers and greeting cards, some heartfelt and others sappy, right? ??

Well, no…not exactly.

There really was a St. Valentine…at least a dozen or so of them, in fact, depending on whether one consults the lists of martyrs of the Roman Catholic or the Eastern Orthodox Church. The name “Valentine” (or “Valentinus”) is from the Latin word, valens, meaning “strong.”

The simple feast (or Commemoration) of St. Valentine in the Roman Martyrology, the Catholic Church’s official list of recognized saints, has traditionally been February 14th, reportedly the date in the year 273 when Bishop Valentine of the Diocese of Terni (in what is now Italy), was imprisoned and killed in Rome.

The truth behind the legends of this particular St. Valentine are murky, to say the least. In 3rd century Rome, Emperor Claudius II believed that young men who were single, without the encumbrances of wives or children, were more dedicated, so he forbade his young soldiers from marrying. Bishop Valentine defied this decree and continued to perform marriages, a stand that cost him his life.

The first recorded connection of St. Valentine to the concept of “romantic love” was in the poem by Geoffrey Chaucer, Parlement of Foules, in 1382, which was written to celebrate the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, who were married when each was but 15 years old. (Without doing any further research, methinks that might have been an arranged marriage.)

Later writers such as John Donne and Shakespeare (in “Hamlet”) also mention Valentine’s Day. By 1797, a British publisher printed The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, with a number of suggested verses for young lovers who felt they were not capable of composing their own. By the early 1800’s, the Regency period in England, factory-produced paper valentines became popular, with fancy ones adorned with real cloth lace and ribbons for those who could afford them. It was also common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange handwritten notes and small tokens of affection.

Real lace became paper lace by the mid-1800’s. In the United States, Esther Howland received an English valentine from one of her father’s business associates. Since her father operated a book and stationery store, Esther decided to create and mass produce valentines in the late 1840’s, using decorations imported from England, and is known as the “Mother of the Valentine.”

Hand-written valentines thus led to greeting cards, which paved the way for Valentine’s Day to become the commercialized, multi-billion-dollar industry it is today. Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. Paper cards, e-cards, flowers, chocolates, and even diamonds are now necessary accoutrements each February 14th to go along with those three little words that never seem to go out of style: “I love you.”

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If you enjoy reading traditional Regency romance, please check out my free novella, An Arranged Valentine, available only on Amazon and through Kindle Unlimited. Here’s a bit about it:

An Arranged Valentine - revised 1-31-2016

In the coldest days of February, can St. Valentine generate enough heat to melt these two strangers’ hearts into one?

“…a perfectly lovely afternoon read.”

“This is a wonderful little gem of a story, heartfelt and touching.”

“Of course, the over riding situation is one where it suits both parties to be arranged.”

“An Arranged Valentine” is a traditional Regency romance novella told in 10 short chapters.

Miss Penelope Braxton has never met either sensible George Harburton or his more dashing younger brother, Henry, but she agrees to grant her dying father peace of mind by considering marriage to one of them.

The advantage of the match for the brothers is evident in the form of Miss Braxton’s substantial dowry. However, her money takes second place when the brothers realize the extent of Penelope’s courage, wit, and devotion.

Henry doesn’t plan to give up his philandering to romance Penelope. George’s days are filled with the running of the family estate and he has never put aside his duties long enough to contemplate marriage. When one of the gentlemen changes his ways, will he be able to compose the perfect poetry to win Penelope’s heart?

An Arranged Valentine can be found here on Amazon.

“Trouble Cove,” sweet historical romantic suspense from author Nancy Lindley-Gauthier

Trouble Cove from Nancy 3-9-2017

 

BLURB:

Far from the all the action of World War I, in a charming tourist’s spot on Cape Breton Island, Elizabeth Eames has stumbled into the most wonderful man in the world. She’s landed herself in a world where wealth reigns supreme; where any eligible bachelor would meet her mother’s aspirations. Of course, she’s dead set on the one she’s certain should not be mentioned in her letters home. Actually, there’s a lot she’s not mentioning. Something is not-quite-right at the grand resort Oceanside, but Elizabeth isn’t giving up her one great chance…

 

BUY LINKS:  AMAZON  B&N.com  Wild Rose Press-paperback

 

Nancy Lindley-Gauthier and “Patriot: At Any Cost”

Patriot coverMulti-published author Nancy Lindley-Gauthier stopped by this morning to chat about her delightfully old-fashioned romance set during the turbulent days of World War II. The title is Patriot: At Any Cost, and it’s now available as an e-book and in paperback.

As we here in the States observe Memorial Day, I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to the men and women who fought side-by-side to keep the world safe. As poet John Milton wrote three centuries before the Second World War, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Good morning, Nancy, and welcome!

‘Morning. It’s great to be here – I don’t believe I’ve ever been in a tea room dedicated to romances before. Love your deco.

Thanks so much. Please take a seat while I make us each a cup. Is there any special flavor you prefer?

At the moment, I love cinnamon tea. Apple cinnamon quite okay, too.

Excellent! I do have that. Don’t you just love Keurig machines? While it’s brewing, would you tell me a bit about yourself?

I’m a fan of the historical romance. I adore being swept to a different time, but especially the ’40s. The WWII era had the music (“Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree…”), the attitudes, the FOOD, for heaven’s sake; it was an amazing time for woman to start coming into their own, and still… everything was home-made!

Let’s talk about real apple cider doughnuts arriving with that tea. Need I go on?

Hmm…I’ll check the pantry, but I don’t get much call for apple cider doughnuts. While I search, though, I’d love to hear more about Patriot At Any Cost. The cover is striking and promises so much adventure. May we read a little of it?

My mother used to say “Wartime is not like any other time.” World War II created a community spirit that brought people together, and perhaps simplified daily life. Here, on the ‘home-front’ of the rocky coast of Maine, we find a young woman who so wants to contribute…but who feels so terribly left behind.  Not only by the times…but by the love of her life, as well.

Here’s a blurb and an excerpt from Patriot At Any Cost:

Blurb:

Lillian wants nothing more than to join the war effort, especially since her childhood sweetheart is headed to war–and promising to write–to her gorgeous adversary, Celia.

Her accidental introduction to injured pilot Callahan sets her on an unexpected path. She joins the Civil Patrol, but suspects the war will hardly be coming to Maine’s quiet shores.

Or, will it?

Excerpt:

Lillian peeked anxiously into the night from behind the safety of her heavy kitchen curtains. A glimmer from the crescent moon gave away the young couple pressed close together at the top of the granite stairway, scarcely inches from the house.

Lill ducked back, away from the window. A roar filled her ears. She could no more hear the strains of big band music wafting from the parlor radio than register the steady crash of waves out on the point. She shut her eyes but could not block the image of the two clasped so tightly together.

There was no denying the truth this time. She did not need to guess at the identity of the couple. She leaned back and forced a slow, deliberate breath. “I cannot believe this.”

Link:  Amazon.com/Patriot at Any Cost

For info on more of Nancy’s other titles, check out her site: https://nlindleygauthier.wordpress.com/

I, and the many talented authors I’ve hosted, would love to hear from you! If you’d like to join in on the discussion and leave us a comment, just click on the title of this (or any other) post or click on the heart to the right of the title, and then scroll down to see the reply box or replies at the bottom of the post. Thanks for stopping by! ~ Kadee