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This rare 1791 edition of Les Amours de Psyché et de Cupidon at David Brass Rare Books features lovely illutstrations of Cupid and Psyche. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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New Year’s Customs

The following selection of quotes come from Yule Tides in Many Lands, Mary P. Pringle and Clara A. Urann, Boston, 1916, Project Gutenberg, pages 50-51.

“England of all countries has probably known the merriest of Yule-tides, certainly the merriest during those centuries when the mummers of yore bade to each and all

“A merry Christmas and a happy New Year,
Your pockets full of money and your cellar full of beer.”

There seems always to have been more or less anxiety felt regarding New Year’s Day in England, for “If the morning be red and dusky it denotes a year of robberies and strife.”

“If the grass grows in Janivear
It grows the worse for ‘t all the year.”

It was very desirable to obtain the “cream of the year” from the nearest[51] spring, and maidens sat up till after midnight to obtain the first pitcherful of water, supposed to possess remarkable virtues. Modern plumbing and city water-pipes have done away with the observance of the “cream of the year,” although the custom still prevails of sitting up to see the Old Year out and the New Year in.
There was also keen anxiety felt as to how the wind blew on New Year’s Eve, for

“If New Year’s Eve night wind blow South,
It betokeneth warmth and growth;
If West, much milk, and fish in the sea;
If North, much cold and storm there will be;
If East, the trees will bear much fruit;
If Northeast, flee it man and brute.””

Celebrating New Year’s  on Martha Stewart’s site discusses the origins of ringing in the new year with a toast.

The custom of toasting, as we know it today, originated in medieval England. Back then, the clinking of glasses was accompanied by the exclamation “Waes haeil,” Middle English for “Be well.” The word toast, in this context, came along in the seventeenth century, when pieces of spiced, toasted bread were placed in drinks, perhaps to enhance their flavor. Today, people throughout the world toast the New Year, but without the croutons of times past.

  • Click here for another New Year’s post on this site.

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This illustration was made over 80 years after Jane Austen died, but there’s a “Regency feeling” about the dresses, hairstyles, and interior. Read more about Christmas of old in these links, and in the post below.

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“I remember we had a discussion that time as to what was the great point and crowning glory of Christmas. Many were for mince-pie; some for the beef and plum-pudding; more for the wassail-bowl; a maiden lady timidly said the mistletoe; but we agreed at last, that although all these were prodigious, and some of them exclusively belonging to the season, the fire was the great indispensable. Upon which we all turned our faces towards it, and began warming our already scorched hands. A great blazing fire, too big, is the visible heart and soul of Christmas. You may do without beef and plum-pudding; even the absence of mince-pie may be tolerated; there must be a bowl, poetically speaking, but it need not be absolutely wassail. The bowl may give place to the bottle. But a huge, heaped-up, over heaped-up, all-attracting fire, with a semicircle of faces about it, is not to be denied us. It is the lar and genius of the meeting; the proof positive of the season; the representative of all our warm emotions and bright thoughts; the glorious eye of the room; the inciter to mirth, yet the retainer of order; the amalgamater of the age and sex; the universal relish. Tastes may differ even on a mince-pie; but who gainsays a fire? The absence of other luxuries still leaves you in possession of that; but

‘Who can hold a fire in his hand With thinking on the frostiest twelfth-cake?’
– a contributor to the New Monthly Magazine, December 1, 1825

Bringing in the Yule Log, Fronticepiece

More traditions:

“At Ripon, on Christmas Eve, the grocers, send each of their customers a pound or half of currants and raisins to make a Christmas pudding. The chandlers also send large mould candles, and the coopers logs of wood, generally called Yule clogs, which are always used on Christmas Eve; but should it be so large as not to be all burnt that night, which is frequently the case, the remains are kept till old Christmas Eve.”

In Sinclair’s Account of Scotland, parish of Kirkden, county of Angus (1792), Christmas is said to be held as a great festival in the neighbourhood. “The servant is free from his master, and goes about visiting his friends and acquaintance. The poorest must have beef or mutton on the table, and what they call a dinner with their friends. Many amuse themselves with various diversions, particularly with shooting for prizes, called here wad-shooting; and many do but little business all the Christmas week; the evening of almost every day being spent in amusement.” And in the account of Keith, in Banffshire, the inhabitants are said to “have no pastimes or holidays, except dancing on Christmas and New Year’s Day.”

Illustration of a Christmas Scene from The Republic of Pemberley
Yorkshire

A writer in “Time’s Telescope” (1822) states that in Yorkshire at eight o’clock on Christmas Eve the bells greet “Old Father Christmas” with a merry peal, the children parade the streets with drums, trumpets, bells, or perhaps, in their absence, with the poker and shovel, taken from their humble cottage fire; the yule candle is lighted, and—

“High on the cheerful fire Is blazing seen th’ enormous Christmas brand.”

Supper is served, of which one dish, from the lordly mansion to the humblest shed, is invariably furmety; yule cake, one of which is always made for each individual in the family, and other more substantial viands are also added.

This information is excerpted from Christmas: It’s Origins and Associations, William Francis Dawson, 1902, Project Gutenberg, Chapter XI, p 251-252. Fronticepiece comes from this volume as well.

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    “Who you callin’ a silly bub, and what’s that you’re offering me?”- Mentioned on three occasions in Samuel Pepys’ diary — in 1662, 1663 and 1668

    When we think of Christmases past, including the traditions and foods that Jane Austen and her kin would have enjoyed, we think of yule logs, kissing boughs, and festive drinks, such as apple toddy, milk punch, and syllabub, a less potent alcoholic and cream mixture than eggnog.

    Over time, the precise recipes have changed. According to British Culture, British Customs, and British Traditions, “In the seventeenth century, a milkmaid would send a stream of new, warm milk directly from a cow into a bowl of spiced cider or ale. A light curd would form on top with a lovely whey underneath. This, according to Elizabeth David, was the original syllabub. Today’s syllabub is more solid (its origins can also be traced to the seventeenth century, albeit to the upper classes) and mixes sherry and/or brandy, sugar, lemon, nutmeg, and double cream into a custard-like dessert or an eggnog-like beverage, depending upon the cook.”

    “In the hour or two that the syllabub was set aside, a curd formed over the ale. With the possible addition of a layer of cream on top, the syllabub was ready to drink. The solids that formed on top of a syllabub were eaten with a spoon, the wine at the bottom drunk.”* Historic Food offers another detailed account of the history and making of this fascinating drink. I’ve also found a stanza from a traditional song that includes drinking syllabub under a cow, which sits below.

    You hawk, you hunt, you lie upon pallets,
    You eat, you drink (the Lord knows how !);We sit upon hillocks, and pick up our sallets, And drink up a syllabub under a cow.

    With a fading.

    In The Universal Cook: And City and Country Housekeeper, John Francis Collingwood and John Woollams, the Principal Cooks at The Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand in the late 18th century, offer precisely such a recipe for syllabub. One supposes that these instructions might be difficult to follow today except for the most determined country person:

    A Syllabub Under a Cow

    Having put a bottle of red or white wine, ale or cyder, into a China bowl, sweeten it with sugar, and grate in some nutmeg. Then hold it under the cow, and milk into it until it has a fine froth on the top. Strew over it a handful of currants cleaned, washed, and picked, and plumbed before the fire.

    Over half a century later, Mrs. Beeton includes this syllabub recipe in her historic and groundbreaking cookery and household management book:

    To Make Syllabub

    900ml (1½ pints) Milk
    600ml (1 pint) Sherry or White Wine
    ½ Grated Nutmeg
    Sugar, to taste

    Put the wine into a bowl, with the grated nutmeg and plenty of caster sugar add the milk and whisk.
    Clotted cream may be laid on the top, with ground cinnamon or nutmeg and sugar.
    A little brandy may be added to the wine before the milk is put in.
    In some counties, cider is substituted for the wine, when this is used, brandy must always be added.
    Warm milk may be poured on from a spouted jug or teapot, but it must be held very high.

    Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.
    Seasonable at any time.

    Find more information about syllabub in these links:

    Click here for my other holiday posts.

    Image from Historic Foods

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    The Jane Austen Centre already offers a comprehensive article on Christmas music in the Origins of Regency Era Christmas Carols in their Online Magazine, which I cannot add to in a meaningful way, and which includes a lovelingly told history of ‘Silent Night.’

    After reading the article, view a YouTube video of Gloucestershire Morris men dancing a traditional stick dance to the tune of While Shepherds Watched, one of the carols described in the article.

    While Bledington, where this dance originated, is situated in the Cotswolds, one is quickly transported to the 18th and 19th centuries when viewing this dance and listening to the music. I believe the musical instrument accompanying this dance is the harmonium (thank you for the tip, Pixzlee). Historically, the pipe and tabor accompanied this dance, while later in the 19th century, the fiddler replaced the pipe and tabor musician.

    Pipe and Tabor


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    Wassailing goes back to pre-Christian times in a tradition meant to bring luck for the coming year. Wassail gets its name from the Old English term “waes hael”, meaning “be well”. At the start of each year, the Saxon lord of the manor would shout ‘waes hael’. The assembled crowd would reply ‘drinc hael’, meaning ‘drink and be healthy’. In cider producing regions, the wassailers went from door to door, with a wassail bowl filled with spiced ale, and sang and drank to the health of those they visited. In return people in the houses gave them drink, money and Christmas food. Traditionally Wassailing was held on Old ‘Twelvy’ Night, before the Georgian Calendar aligned the calendar year to the solar year. The true date for Wassailing, therefore, was the 17th of January.

    Listen to a traditional wassailing song on this YouTube link.

    In cider producing regions, the tradition varied, and was known as the wassailing of trees:

    …it was the custom for the Devonshire people on the eve of Twelfth Day to go after supper into the orchard with a large milk-pan full of cyder with roasted apples in it. Each person took what was called a clayen cup, i.e. an earthenware cup full of cyder, and standing under each of the more fruitful trees, sung —

    “Health to thee, good apple-tree,
    Well to bear, pocket-fulls, hat-fulls,
    Peck-fulls, bushel-bag-fulls.”

    After drinking part of the contents of the cup, he threw the rest, with the fragments of the roasted apples, at the trees, amid the shouting of the company. Another song sung on such occasions was

    “Here’s to thee, old apple-tree,
    Whence thou may’st bud, and whence thou may’st blow,
    And whence thou may’st bear apples enow
    Hats full! caps full!
    Bushel-bushel-sacks full,
    And my pockets full, too, huzza!”

    From Wassailing

    Update: Tim writes: Wassailing refers to the practice of both door-to-door carol-singing on Christmas Eve and the apple wassailing on Old Twelth Night. The naming comes from the common imbibing of the wassail. Both traditions co-exist and the carolling occurs not just in cider-growing areas.

    Thanks for the information, Tim. I should have been clearer about the distinction between the two traditions at the start of this post. These days wassailing does mean carolling, but it did not always have this connotation.

    Wassail Bowl
    La Belle Cuisine, Recipe from the Gourmet Archives

    4 cups apple cider
    1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
    1/2 cup dark rum
    1/4 cup brandy
    1 tablespoon orange liqueur
    1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
    1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
    Salt to taste
    1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
    1/2 orange, thinly sliced
    Whipped cream
    Freshly grated nutmeg

    In a saucepan bring the apple cider to a boil over medium heat, add
    the brown sugar and cook mixture, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved.
    Remove pan from heat and add the rum, brandy, orange liqueur,
    cinnamon, cloves, allspice, salt, and fruit slices. Heat mixture over
    moderate heat, stirring, 2 minutes. Pour the wassail into wine glasses
    and top it with whipped cream and freshly grated nutmeg.

    View my other holiday posts: A Jane Austen Christmas, Yule Log, New Year’s Eve, Boxing Day, Christmas Pudding, etc. here.

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    History of Valentine’s Day

    The reason behind Valentines Day celebration dates back to the Roman Empire. During the 3rd century, Rome was engaged in many unpopular wars, and Emperor Claudius II was having trouble persuading soldiers to join his military. He believed this was due to men’s attachments to their lovers or families so he outlawed all marriages in Rome.
    Enter St. Valentine, a Roman priest.

    Valentine thought the Emperor’s decree was unjust and began performing secret marriages for young lovers. When his actions were finally discovered, he was imprisoned.

    While in prison, Valentine supposedly fell in love with his jailer’s daughter. Before his death, it is said that he wrote her a letter, which he signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is used today. This is considered the first valentine. Click here for the source of this information.

    In the 14th century Valentine’s Day began to be celebrated with loved ones and a large feast was organized to mark the day. Valentine greetings were said or sung, but by the 15th Century beginning to be put into writing. In 16th century began the custom of exchanging gifts between lovers with the passing of paper Valentine. In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day celebrations took off around the 17th century. The oldest known valentine still in existence today is a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife, while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The valentine is now part of a collection in the British library in London, England.

    Initially, valentines were usually handmade and given anonymously. During the 1800s much larger hand-painted copperplates molded in the shape of hearts replaced paper e-cards. In later years, the copperplates gradually gave way to woodcuts and carvings and lithographs. By the middle of the 18th century, Valentine’s Day become popular amongst the masses and it became a common tradition for all social classes to secretly exchange small tokens of lover or handwritten love notes called Valentine. Despite the existence of the pre-printed card, the majority of valentines were one of a kind and made by hand. Consequently, few exist today.By the middle of the 18th century, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small gifts or handwritten notes on that day.
    By the end of the century, printed cards began to replace written letters. Cheaper postage rates helped contribute to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.

    http://www.stvalentinesday.org/valentines-day-celebration.html

    The History.Behind.Valentines.Day

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    Ophelia’s Valentine’s Song

    Valentine’s Day has been a celebration for lovers since the medieval period.

    Jane Austen would certainly have known Ophelia’s Song, written by William Shakespeare in the 16th century.

    To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
    All in the morning betime,
    And I a maid at your window,
    To be your Valentine.
    Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
    And dupp’d the chamber- door;
    Let in the maid, that out a maid
    Never departed more.
    By Gis and by Saint Charity,
    Alack, and fie for shame!
    Young men will do’t, if they come to’t;
    By cock, they are to blame.
    Quoth she, before you tumbled me,
    You promised me to wed.
    So would I ha’ done, by yonder sun,
    An thou hadst not come to my bed.

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    New Year’s Eve Traditions: Some Old, Some New

    What did a New Year’s Eve Celebration look and feel like during the time of Jane Austen? This English Country House site gives you a good idea. You can still celebrate New Year’s Eve at Hunstrete House in Somerset much as they did in the 18th & 19th Centuries. Visitors are greeted by a cheery log burning on the fire, and are called to afternoon tea.

    One can imagine the fabulous black tie meal consisting of a variety of courses that stretched for hours on end. The evening would then culminate with the ringing in of the New Year and a festive group singing the Robert Burns version of Auld Lange Syne. (Listen to it on this site.)

    In England, “If the family prefer to bring in the New Year at home there is such a custom: the members of the household sat themselves round the hearth, and when the hands of the clock approach the hour, the head of the family rises, goes to the front door, opens it wide, and holds it thus until the last stroke of midnight has died away. Having let the Old Year out and the New Year in, he shuts the door quietly and returns to the family circle. ” (From this site)

    The song, “Auld Lang Syne,” is traditionally sung at the stroke of midnight in almost every English-speaking country in the world to bring in the new year. The custom of singing this song on New Years Eve goes back to the British Isles from the 18th century when guests ended a party standing in a circle and singing this song. The custom first was rooted in Scotland, because the lyrics were written in 1788 by Robert Burns, their favorite folk poet of the time. But most musicologists feel that Auld Lang Syne came from a traditional Scottish folk melody. The entire song’s message merely means to just forget about the past and look ahead to the new year with hope. (From Study English Today)

    More About Auld Lang Syne
    The most commonly sung song for English-speakers on New Year’s eve, “Auld Lang Syne” is an old Scottish song that was first published by the poet Robert Burns in the 1796 edition of the book, Scots Musical Museum. Burns transcribed it (and made some refinements to the lyrics) after he heard it sung by an old man from the Ayrshire area of Scotland, Burns’s homeland,” Borgna Brunner .

    Click here for my other New Year’s Post.

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    Happy Christmas! The Christmas season in the early 1800s was a time of festive balls, dinner parties, and parlor games as described in Christmas Regency Style and a Jane Austen Christmas. While Christmas decorations in the form of garlands and mistletoe were put up on Christmas Eve and a yule log was cut and burned, the custom of ornamenting christmas trees, swapping Christmas cards, and singing Christmas carols did not become widespread until the Victorian era.

    Click on the links below to learn how Christmas was actually celebrated during Jane Austen’s and the Prince Regent’s time.

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    Boxing Day


    The day after Christmas is called Boxing Day in England. December 26th was also known as St. Stephen’s Day, after the first Christian martyr. Money was collected in alms-boxes placed in churches during the festive season. This money was then distributed to the poor and needy after Christmas.

    Boxing Day was first observed during the Middle Ages. In Jane Austen’s time the upper classes presented gifts in boxes to their servants on December 26 for good service the day before and during the previous year. The servants were often given the day off, and if December 26 fell on a Saturday or Sunday, Boxing Day took place on the following Monday. Boxing Day was also a traditional day for fox hunting.

    Learn more about Boxing Day on the All About Christmas website.


    This Snopes article about Boxing Day and its origins provides a more extensive overview as well: Click here.

    To help you understand the Christian Calendar of that era, here is a listing:

    Twelfth Night January 5
    Epiphany January 6
    Plough Monday First Monday after Epiphany
    Hilary Term (law courts) Begins in January
    Hilary Term (Cambridge) Begins in January
    Hilary Term (Oxford) Begins in January
    Candlemas February 2
    Lady Day (a quarter day) March 25
    Easter Term (Oxford)
    Easter Term (Cambridge)
    Easter In March or April
    Easter Term (law courts) Begins after Easter
    Ascension 40 days after Easter
    Whitsunday (Pentecost) 50 days after Easter
    May Day May 1
    Midsummer (a quarter day) June 24
    Trinity Term (law term) Begins after Whitsunday
    Trinity Term (Oxford) Begins in June
    Laminas (Loaf Mass) August 1
    Michaelmas (a quarter day) September 29
    Michaelmas Term Begins in OctoberMichaelmas Term Begins in October
    Michaelmas Term Begins in November
    All Hallows, All Saints November 1
    All Souls November 2
    Guy Fawkes Day November 5
    Martinmas November 11
    Christmas (a quarter day) December 25
    Boxing Day Generally, first weekday after Christmas

    Click on The Book of Days and then the Calendar of Days to learn more details about these yearly events and how and why they are celebrated.

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