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Archive for December, 2018

Jane Austen’s Christmas Day at Godmersham Park, her brother’s estate in the English countryside of Kent, was a merry one. As described by Claire Tomalin in Jane Austen: A Life , “Christmas was celebrated with carols, card games, blindman’s bluff, battledore, bullet pudding and dancing.”

Austen herself described the gaiety and revelry of Christmas in Persuasion, Chapter 14:

On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were trestles and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard in spite of the noise of the others.”

The games mentioned by Tomalin in her excellent biography of Austen included Hunt the Slipper, which, when played by children, would be fun and boisterous, and when played by adults at a country house gathering could have a naughty connotation, as in the 1802 image in the Hunt the Slipper: A Story, (Peabody Essex Museum).

Game directions for Hunt the Slipper

Hunt the Slipper game directions. (Hunt the Slipper, The American Folk Song Collection,  Kodaly Center, Holy Names University.

Image of Hunt the Slipper by Francesco Bartolozzi, 1787, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts (GMII): Image in the public domain. Wikimedia

Francesco Bartolozzi, 1787, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts (GMII): Image in the public domain. Wikimedia

Hunt the Slipper reminds me of musical chairs, only the slipper is passed secretly to the players until the song ends. This simple but fun song/game is still played today. You can view the “Hunt the Slipper” image by Kate Greenaway,  who lived in the last half of the 19th century, then read the 2008 description of the game in The Guardian at this link: click here. The rules over the centuries are remarkably similar.

In her book, Claire Tomalin mentioned a second song and game that the Austen family (and other families of the era) played called “Oranges and Lemons.” References to this traditional song and nursery rhyme appeared as early as the 17th century.

The first published record of Oranges and Lemons dates back to 1744 in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book, although it’s fair to assume it had been in circulation for some time before then. There is a reference to a square dance with the same name in a 1665 publication…– What is London’s Oranges and Lemons rhyme all about? by Benjamin Till, People Features, London, BBC Home, 13 November, 2014

Till discusses the many meanings of this song. In short, London’s churches, which are located in distinct districts within the city, are identified with certain trades.

References to “pancakes and fritters”, “kettles and pans” and “brick bats and tiles” tell us of bakers, coppersmiths and builders in areas around St Peter Upon Cornhill, St Anne’s and St Giles, Cripplegate respectively.” — Till, BBC Home

A version of the song can be heard on YouTube.

Many versions of this song exist, which makes one wonder which lyrics Jane Austen and her family sang. This is one version:

“Oranges and Lemons”

Two Sticks and Apple,
Ring ye Bells at Whitechapple,
Old Father Bald Pate,
Ring ye Bells Aldgate,
Maids in White Aprons,
Ring ye Bells a St. Catherines,
Oranges and Lemmons,
Ring ye bells at St. Clemens,
When will you pay me,
Ring ye Bells at ye Old Bailey,
When I am Rich,
Ring ye Bells at Fleetditch,
When will that be,
Ring ye Bells at Stepney,
When I am Old,
Ring ye Bells at Pauls

Here is another version, date unknown by me:

Gay go up and gay go down,
To ring the bells of London town.

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clements.

Bull’s eyes and targets,
Say the bells of St. Margret’s.

Brickbats and tiles,
Say the bells of St. Giles’.

Halfpence and farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

Pancakes and fritters,
Say the bells of St. Peter’s.

Two sticks and an apple,
Say the bells of Whitechapel.

Pokers and tongs,
Say the bells of St. John’s.

Kettles and pans,
Say the bells of St. Ann’s.

Old Father Baldpate,
Say the slow bells of Aldgate.

You owe me ten shillings,
Say the bells of St. Helen’s.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.

Pray when will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.

I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.

Chop chop chop chop
The last man’s dead!

This YouTube video of Oranges and Lemons from Gresham College performs the earliest known version of the song by Catherine King. The illustration of the dance for “Oranges and Lemons,” which is copyright free, is by Agnes Rose Bouvier (1842 – 1892).

One can imagine how much fun Aunts Jane and Cassandra must have had singing these popular songs while dancing and playing the games during the Christmas season with their nieces and nephews and the family in general.

As I end this post, Christmas day has nearly come to an end. I wish you all a happy holiday season and New Year’s celebration. May you all find joy, dear readers, in the gifts and love of your family, faith, and friends.

Sources:

Tomalin, Claire, 1999. Jane Austen: A Life. New York, Random House, First Vintage Books Edition.

What is London’s Oranges and Lemons rhyme all about? by Benjamin Till, People Features, London, BBC Home, 13 November, 2014

Other Christmas Posts on this Blog:

Click on this link for posts related to the topic

Games Regency People Play: Blind Man’s Bluff

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Detail of sprigs of ivy in window, Bowles and Carver print, London. Circa 1775

Sprigs of ivy in window panes and a bough of mistletoe overhead. Detail of a Bowles and Carver print, London. Circa 1775

On Christmas Eve the children laid out the traditional holly branches on the window ledges…” Jane Austen: A Life, Claire Tomalin, p. 4.

Christmas decorations during the Regency era were relatively simple compared to today’s standards, or even Victorian standards, when Christmas trees and wrapped packages made major appearances in common households.

Evergreen plants that bore fruit in the winter season, such as holly, mistletoe, rosemary, bay, laurel, box, yew, and fir have been popular British holiday decorations for centuries. Their meaning as symbols of everlasting life is derived from pagan days (Sciencing). It is uncertain when these evergreens began to be used as Christmas decorations, but carols mentioning the holly and ivy appeared before the 15th century. In addition to the holly and ivy, this early 17th century carol describes Christmas customs that are still popular.

[A Christmas Carol, by George Wither. From his “Juvenilia,” first printed in 1622.]

So, now is come our joyfulst feast;
Let every man be jolly;
Each room with ivy leaves is drest,
And every post with holly.
Though some churls at our mirth repine,
Round your foreheads garlands twine;
‘Drown sorrow in a cup of wine,
And let us all be merry.
Now, all our neighbours’ chimnies smoke,
And Christmas blocks are burning;
Their ovens they with bak’d meats choke,
And all their spits are turning.
Without the door let sorrow lye;
And if for cold it hap to die,
We’ll bury’t in a Christmas pie,
And ever more be merry.

 

In Susan Drury’s 1985 study of  “Customs and Beliefs Associated with Christmas Evergreens: A Preliminary Survey,” the tradition of putting up and taking down evergreen Christmas decorations varied across England. Observing the superstitions of a particular region (and the strict rules for their length of stay), decorations were put up on either Christmas Eve or on Christmas day.  Some regions dictated that decorations be taken down on Twelfth Night, or the 12th day of Christmas, while others recorded that they should remain up until Candlemas Eve on February 2, or the 40th day of Christmas. To make matters more complicated, the manner of disposing the evergreens differed according to local superstitions. “In Cornwall, as probably in Devon, evergreens would appear to have been hung on Christmas Eve… On Twelfth Day every piece of evergreen had to be removed, because it was believed that for every leaf left a ghost would be seen in the house in the ensuing year.”

 

We all know of Jane Austen’s years in Bath, Somerset. Drury mentions that in this region no holly or mistletoe “was to be hung up before Christmas eve,” which gives us an idea of when the Austen’s purchased evergreens (for they were now city dwellers) to festoon their house. Drury’s passage for Somerset is somewhat confusing in the disposal of evergreens, for she jumps from Somerset to South Somerset to the customs of local churches, which all differ. She writes that “The importance of Christmas evergreen decorations in England is shown by the strict rules regarding their length of stay and the care taken in disposing of them when they were removed from the walls, a process which varies between and often within each county.”

In closing, Robert Herrick describes the best time of the year for the disposal of a variety evergreens throughout the calendar year in this poem…

CEREMONIES FOR CANDLEMAS EVE

Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the misletoe;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box, for show.

The holly hitherto did sway;
Let box now domineer,
Until the dancing Easter-day,
Or Easter’s eve appear.

Then youthful box, which now hath grace
Your houses to renew,
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.

When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside,
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin,
To honour Whitsuntide.

Green rushes then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments,
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift; each thing his turn does hold;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.

Sources:

Tomalin, Claire, 1999. Jane Austen: A Life. New York, Random House, First Vintage Books Edition.

Specimens of Old Christmas Carols: Selected from Manuscripts and Printed Books, Volume 4, London: Printed for the Percy Society. By T. Richards, for the Executors of the late C. Richards, 100, St. Martin’s Lane. 1841.
 

Customs and Beliefs Associated with Christmas Evergreens: A Preliminary Survey, Susan Dury. Folklore, Vol. 98, No.2 (1987), pp. 194-199. Published by Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd. Accessed 09-12-2018 at https://ww.jstor.org/stable/1259980

“Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve,” Hesperides, or, The works both humane & divine of Robert Herrick, Esq.  London: Printed for John Williams and Francis Eglesfield, 1648.

Christmas in Prints, Michael Olmert, 2008, Colonial Williamsburg

Other Christmas Posts on this Blog:

Click on this link for posts related to the topic

Another Interesting Blog Post About Christmas

But Surely Christmas in England Didn’t Exist Until Dickens Invented It? Austenonly

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Faithful readers,

Fronticepiece of Christmas Carols by Thomas Wright, 1841Once again December has caught me flat footed. It is almost 10 days into the month and I am still researching interesting historical information about Christmas holiday celebrations as Jane Austen would have known them. While many books, articles, bloggers and internet sites cover this topic in detail, I hope to add a few interesting items that might not be widely known. I urge you to read Austenonly’s excellent article, “But Surely Christmas in England Didn’t Exist Until Dickens Invented It? “, which explains how and why this season was suppressed for years by the Puritans in the mid-17th century, when Charles I had been deposed and beheaded, and how our customs managed to survive and flourish.

As many of you know, Christmas celebrations as we know it in modern times (the decorative tree, a German custom, the elaborately wrapped presents, and the many traditional carols we still sing today) are rooted in Victorian times. So how did Jane Austen and her contemporaries celebrate this important Christian holiday? I hope to link to many articles of interest and provide a few insights of my own.

I learned with shock that many of my favorite carols, such as Silent Night and The First Noel, were written after Jane Austen’s death. I chose the following two 17th century carols (which Jane Austen might not have known, but which had been retrieved from obscurity in 1841 by Thomas Wright in Specimens of Old Christmas Carols ) because of the Boar’s Head motif, which has endured to this day. I love the old English spelling in these songs and yet their content speaks to the celebrations we still hold today.

A Carol bringyng in the bores heed.

Caput apm’ dgfero, Reddens laudes Domino.

[From a Collection of Christmas Carols, printed by Wynkyn de Worde, in 1521, from which book it is given by Hearne, in his notes to William of Newbery, iii. p. 17 5.]

The bores heed in hande bring I,

With garlands gay and rosemary;

I praye you all synge merely,

qui estis in convivio.

The bores heed, I understande,

Is the chefe servyce of this lande;

Loke where ever it be fande,

servite cum cantico.

Be gladde, lordes, bothe more and lasse,

For this hath ordeyned owr stewarde,

T o chere you all this Christmasse,

The bores heed with mustarde.

Bringing in the Boar's Head image, copyright free.

XIX. [The following modernised form of the foregoing carol, is given by Dr. Dibdin, as preserved and used up to a very recent period at Queen’s College, Oxford. Dibdin’s Ames, vol. ii. p. 252.]

THE boar’s head in hand bear I,

Bedeck’d with bays and rosemary;

And I pray you, my masters, be merry,

Quot estis in convivio.

Caput Apri defero,

Reddens laudes Domino.

The boar’s head, as I understand,

Is the rarest dish in all this land,

Which thus bedeck’d with a gay garland,

Let us servire cantico.

Caput Apri dlfero,

Reddens laudes Domino.

Our steward hath provided this

In honour of the king of bliss;

Which on this day to be served is

In Reginemn’ Atria.

Caput Apri defero,

Reddens laudcs Domino.

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