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Posts Tagged ‘Holidays’

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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