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Christmas with Jane Austen

Many Austen fans enjoy thinking about how Jane and her family celebrated Christmas. They wonder, did she give gifts, “deck” the halls, or have a Christmas tree? As most Austen fans know, many of the Christmas traditions we might picture actually became popular during the Victorian Era. However, there are plenty of Regency Christmas traditions that are still familiar today and others that can add to our enjoyment of the holiday season.

Christmas Celebrations in Jane Austen’s Novels

In each of Austen’s novels, Christmas is mentioned. It was, as it is today, a time for festive dances, parties, and dinners. As Mr. Elton says in Emma, “This is quite the season indeed for friendly meetings. At Christmas every body invites their friends about them…” (E 115). In Pride and Prejudice, Caroline Bingley writes to Jane, saying, “I sincerely hope your Christmas in Hertfordshire may abound in the gaieties which that season generally brings” (PP 117).

Just as we do today, the people of Austen’s time enjoyed seasonal foods, drinks, and decorations. In Persuasion, Austen paints a festive Christmas scene:

“On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels 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 all the noise of the others. […] Charles and Mary also came in, of course, during their visit, and Mr Musgrove made a point of paying his respects to Lady Russell, and sat down close to her for ten minutes, talking with a very raised voice, but from the clamour of the children on his knees, generally in vain. It was a fine family-piece.” (P 134)

Most of us have witnessed a similar scene at a large Christmas party or family gathering, where children are playing and laughing, great quantities of food are set out, and people are talking so loudly it’s hard to keep up a conversation.
Christmas was also a time for families to gather together. Children away at school came home for the holidays. Extended family traveled to visit one another. Emma personally looks forward to Christmas because it means her sister Isabella’s family will visit for a week: “many a long October and November evening must be struggled through at Hartfield, before Christmas brought the next visit from Isabella and her husband, and their little children, to fill the house, and give her pleasant society again” (E 7).

In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner come to Longbourn with their children to visit: “On the following Monday, Mrs. Bennet had the pleasure of receiving her brother and his wife, who came as usual to spend the Christmas at Longbourn” (PP 139). At the end of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth writes to her aunt Gardiner and says, “You are all to come to Pemberley at Christmas” (383). Thus, a new family tradition begins.

And for a young girl like Catherine Morland, Christmas increased the likelihood of getting cornered by an older relative. In Northanger Abbey, Catherine worries about what “gown and what head-dress she should wear” because “her great aunt had read her a lecture on the subject only the Christmas before” (NA 73). The main message of that lecture: “Dress is at all times a frivolous distinction, and excessive solicitude about it often destroys its own aim” (73).

Regency Christmas Traditions

“Photo by Rachel Dodge.” (link “Rachel Dodge” to http://www.racheldodge.com)

Rachel Dodge Book Photo

Photo of the book cover of A Jane Austen Christmas by Maria Grace @Rachel Dodge  (linked)

In her book A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions, Maria Grace shares details about the Christmas traditions that Jane would have experienced. She explains that the Christmas season itself started “a week before Advent […] and extended all the way through Twelfth Night in January” (Grace 1). She covers the types of foods and sweets they ate—including a delightful history and explanation of plum pudding—and provides descriptions of holiday drinks, quaint parlor games, and seasonal dinner parties, card parties, and balls. She also talks about the charitable traditions of the time, like St. Thomas Day and Boxing Day, as well as the Christmas carols Jane might have known, such as The First Noel and God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (31).

Gift giving, according to Grace, became more popular toward the end of the Regency period, when ads began to run “in periodicals suggesting novel ideas for gifts” (43). However, people did give gifts during Austen’s lifetime on St. Nicholas Day, Christmas Day, and Twelfth Night, typically from “those lower in status to those above them” (42) and between social equals “like friends and family” (43).

Church attendance was a focal point for most Regency families on Christmas Day. In Kirsten Olsen’s All Things Austen, she says, “At church, a special sermon was delivered, and communion was offered” (203). In Austen’s family, that meant that her father Reverend Austen would preach and her family would all go to church on Christmas Day.

Though Regency families didn’t decorate their homes to the extent that we do today, Olsen notes that “[h]ouses were decorated with holly and other green foliage” (Olsen 203). As for Christmas trees, they didn’t become prevalent in England until later: “Christmas trees only became popular after The Illustrated London News published a picture of Victoria and Albert with a family Christmas tree in 1848” (Grace 33).

First_Christmas_Tree_in_Britain_1846_Illustrated_London_News

Illustration Caption: “Lithograph in The Illustrated London News in the winter of 1848,” Wikimedia Commons.

If you’d like to add a new Regency tradition to your holiday season or throw an Austen-inspired Christmas party, books such as A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions by Maria Grace are full of wonderful details. I picked up my copy at this year’s JASNA AGM, but it’s available on Amazon as well.

Christmas in Hampshire

In Chawton, Jane Austen’s House Museum (link to https://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/whats-on) has its own special tradition this time of year. The museum celebrates the Christmas season and Jane’s birthday at their “Annual Open day” on December 16. The museum offers free admission and mince pies for all visitors. This year, visitors can also create free Christmas crafts inspired by the Austen family coverlet currently on display at the museum.

Works Cited

  • Austen, Jane. The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen. Edited by R. W. Chapman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
  • Grace, Maria. A Jane Austen Christmas; Regency Christmas Traditions. White Soup Press, 2014.
  • Olsen, Kirstin. All Things Austen: A Concise Encyclopedia of Austen’s World. Oxford, Greenwood World, 2008.

Other blog posts on this site citing Regency Christmas traditions: Click on this link for a variety of traditions and foods during this era

 

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Dear Readers, Happy Holidays! If you happen to stand under a sprig of mistletoe (these days it is most likely artificial), you will probably hug or kiss the person standing nearest you. This tradition did not appear in English literature until the 18th century. The practice of gathering mistletoe began in the second century BC with the Druids in ancient Britain. They gathered the parasitic plant at the start of winter from the sacred oak as a symbol of hope, peace, and harmony. Sprigs were hung in homes to herald good fortune. The plants were also used for medicinal purposes to promote female fertility and as an antidote for poison. Today we associate mistletoe boughs with Christmas. Gathered on this page are a few quotes from various sources.

Illustrated London News, Dec 20, 1851

The Mistletoe Season

Down South for the past month all the boys and girls who want to earn money have been gathering mistletoe.

Weeks before the Christmas-time, these young people begin to hunt the woods for mistletoe. Having found it, they watch it growing. If they find that some one else watching the same bunch, they announce it is their mistletoe.

The mistletoe grows on the tree, but is no more a part of the tree than the moss with which Northern children are familiar, or vines that climb up the outside of the tree. The mistletoe grows high up in the tree and, if out on a slender branch, must be reached after with a stick and pulled off gently. Even then it is not out of danger, for the beauty is marred if the little plant falls to the ground. –  New outlook, Volume 52, edited by Alfred Emanuel Smith, Francis Walton Outlook Publishing Company, Inc., U.S., 1895, p. 1146

Mistletoe sprigs decorated chandeliers, doorways, and ceilings.

A ball of mistletoe, ornamented with ribbons, would be hung around Christmastime, and no unmarried girl could refuse a kiss if she was underneath it. At every kiss, the boy would pluck one of the mistletoe berries, and when there were no more berries, the ball was taken down until the next year. If a girl didn’t receive a mistletoe kiss by the time the ball was taken down, she couldn’t expect to marry in the following year. So the kiss could be a promise of marriage or a symbol of admiration, but it was also a kind of mystical fortune-telling trick. – Apartment Therapy – History of the Mistletoe

Gathering mistletoe in Nomandy

The best time for gathering mistletoe is in November after a few frosts have fallen and before the sap freezes, though it may be gathered and used at any period of the year. When gathered it should at once be spread out to dry as it will mould in a very short time if kept in a box or sack. It is best to dry it in the shade. – United States medical investigator1878,  p 132.

Kiss under the mistletoe

Mistletoe grew in England and the United States. The common mistletoe of England grew on orchard trees and forest trees, and seldom on oak trees, which is why Druids revered it for its rarity. Mistletoe sapped the strength of apple trees in Brittany and Normandy. There it was gathered for the London market. The American mistletoe grows on deciduous trees, especially the tupelo poplar and red maple, from New Jersey, southern Indiana and east Kansas, to the Gulf. –  The Standard reference work: for the home, school and library, Volume 5, edited by Harold Melvin Stanford Standard Education Society, 1921

Mr Fezziwig's ball, John Leech, A Christmas Carol by Dickens

By the Victorian era, there was scarcely a house or cottage that did not have mistletoe at Christmas time.

Down with the rosemary, and so,

Down with the baies and Mistletoe;

Down with the holly, ivie, all,

Wherewith ye dressed the Christmas Hall.

19th c. mistletoe gatherer

The damsel donn’d her kirtle sheen;

The hall was dress’d with holly green,

Forth to the wood did merry men go

To gather in the Mistletoe.”

– English botany, or, coloured figures of British plants, Volume 4, By James Sowerby G. Bell, 1873

Kiss under the mistletoe

Happy Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to All!

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Gentle Readers, Frequent contributor Patty from Brandy Parfums recently attended a cooking class that featured classic recipes. She says of her experience: “When we think about our wonderful holiday dinners coming up, it is good to remember the origins of mid-winter celebrations, so ingrained in our DNA.” I can’t think of two more interesting recipes to try than the two Patty describes in this post.

Cooking Class Taught by Culinary Historian Cathy Kaufman at I.C.E, the Institute of Culinary Education, New York, NY on December 5, 2011 by Patricia Saffran

Before there was Christmastime, the cherished holiday and lovely dinner that many have come to look forward to each winter, in ancient times there was the winter solstice celebration of rebirth focusing on the sun, in Stonehenge and other Neolithic sites. Later, light-starved Romans celebrated the Saturnalia, in 217 BC starting with December 17th and extending to a week long festival with gorging and other very pagan activities.

Stonehenge

Then there was the Roman and Mithra Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the birthday of the invincible sun, December 25th. Old customs die hard but we still pay tribute to tree worship in the form of the Christmas tree, that came to Great Britain from Germany. It was first introduced by Queen Charlotte, with the connection made stronger later by Prince Albert. When we come to Victorian times is when the present traditions take hold.

As culinary historian, Cathy Kaufman described the holiday’s traditions and her special class:

A Charles Dickens Christmas

“Nothing pushes the nostalgia button at Christmastime more than Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, with its warming images of a candlelit tree and Victorian plenitude. Yet prior to the 19th century, Christmas was a very different holiday, and it was only in the Victorian era that our concept of Christmas as a child-centered family holiday arose. After reviewing the evolution of Christmas holidays, we will use 19th-century English cookbooks, such as Charles Francatelli’s The Modern Cook and Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families, to create a groaning board of Victorian delights, including Jerusalem Artichoke Soup; Lobster Fricassée; Baked Goose with Chestnuts; Roasted Filet of Beef à l’Anglaise; Endives with Cream; Christmas Pudding; Gingerbread; and Twelfth Night Cake.”

Cathy continued, “This is upper class food that we’re making tonight, that took a large staff in the kitchen to prepare, with no expenses spared, using the most luxurious ingredients. It’s also infusion cuisine made with expensive stocks, showing the French influence in this period. There’s also a fair amount of cream in many dishes with a touch of cayenne pepper, an influence of the British colonials in India. The French at this time would have just used nutmeg. There were many women cooks in the kitchens of the wealthy in England, and in France there were more men in the kitchens.”

Charles Elme Francatelli

We separated into three groups to make the various dishes. I chose the group that was making the Charles Francatelli recipe for Beef à l’Anglaise. Francatelli was born in London in 1805 and went on to study with the great chef Marie-Antoine Carême in France, inventor of haute-cuisine. (At the downfall of Napoleon, Carême later went to work in London for the Prince Regent and George IV.) Francatelli was the chef for Queen Victoria and went on to be the chef at the Reform Club. His influential book was called The Modern Cook, published in 1846. This recipe is very time consuming and labor intensive with a vegetable and olive oil marinade and Financière and Espagnole (including truffle juice and veal stock) sauces for basting and serving. Our group also made vegetable garnishes and one of the three desserts, the Plum Pudding.

Another group made the Lobster Fricassée from an Eliza Acton recipe. Eliza Acton was born in Sussex in 1799. Like Francatelli, she spent time in France. She is credited with writing the first practical cookbook with a list of ingredients and instructions. Mrs. Beeton was supposed to have modeled her cookbook on Acton’s. The lobster recipe is somewhat complicated in that uses both a Béchamel and Consommé made from veal, mushrooms, ham, vegetables and stock. Final baking in the oven with the sauce and bread crumbs finished off this delectable dish.

The goose recipe from Charles Francatelli featured a Madeira wine mirepoix and a luting paste, a flour and water cover for the goose’s first hour of cooking to keep it moist.

Here are two recipes that are absolutely delicious and will be easy to make for a home version of a Victorian Christmas feast. Both recipes are presented in the original text and then in Cathy Kaufman’s modernized version for today’s kitchens.

Jerusalem artichoke

Jerusalem Artichoke, or Palestine Soup (Eliza Acton)

Wash and pare quickly some freshly dug artichokes, and to preserve their colour, throw them into spring water as they are done, but do not let them remain in it after all are ready. Boil three pounds of them in water for ten minutes; lift them out, and slice them into three pints of boiling stock; when they have stewed gently in this from fifteen to twenty minutes, press them with the soup, through a fine sieve, and put the whole into a clean saucepan with a pint and a half more of stock; add sufficient salt and cayenne to season it, skim it well, and after it has simmered two or three minutes, stir it to a pint of rich boiling cream. Serve it immediately.

2 lb. Jerusalem artichokes
4 cups chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
5/8 cup heavy cream mixed with 1/4 cup Crème fraîche

Pare the Jerusalem artichokes.  Drop the pared Jerusalem artichokes into a pan of boiling salted water.  Cook for ten minutes to set the color.  Drain and refresh.

Slice the Jerusalem artichokes into pieces of about 1/2 inch thick and place in a saucepan with the chicken stock.  Simmer for 20 minutes and pass mixture through a food mill three times [or puree in a blender].

Return the puree to a clean saucepan and add the spices and heavy cream mixture.  Cook for two minutes, skim any impurities off the surface, adjust the seasoning and serve.

 

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Fronticepiece, Modern Cookery by Eliza Acton

Gingerbread (Eliza Acton)

Whisk four strained or well-cleared eggs to the lightest possible froth (French eggs, if really sweet, will answer for the purpose), and pour to them, by degrees, a pound and a quarter of treacle, still beating them lightly. Add, in the same manner, six ounces pale brown sugar, free from lumps, one pound of sifted flour, and six ounces of good butter, just sufficiently warmed to be liquid, and no more, for if hot, it would render the cake; it should be poured in small portions to the mixture, which should be well beaten up with the back of a wooden spoon as each portion is thrown in: the success of this cake depends almost entirely on this part of the process. When properly mingled with the mass, the butter will not be perceptible on the surface; and if the cake be kept light by constant whisking, large bubbles will appear in it to the last. When it is so far ready, add to it one ounce of Jamaica ginger and a large teaspoonful of cloves in fine powder, with the lightly grated rinds of two fresh, full-sized lemons. Butter thickly, in every part, a shallow square tin pan, and bake the gingerbread slowly for nearly or quite an hour in a gentle oven. Let it cool a little before it is turned out, and set it on its edge until cold, supporting it, if needful, against a large jar or bowl. We have usually had it baked in an American oven, in a tin less than 2 inches deep; and it has been excellent. We retain the name given to it originally in our circle.

Please note: The treacle, sugar and flour are measured by weight, not by volume.

2 tablespoons softened butter for preparing the baking pans
3 eggs
20 oz treacle
6 oz light brown sugar
6 oz butter, melted and cooled
16 oz cake flour, sifted
4 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
grated zest of two lemons

Preheat the oven to 350ー F.  Generously rub the inside of a 9 x 9 x 2 baking pan with the softened butter and set aside.

Stir the eggs together and pass them through a strainer to remove the white threads holding the yolks. Transfer to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat for two minutes. Very slowly pour in the treacle, beating constantly. Add the brown sugar in a slow trickle and continue beating. Add the butter and a steady stream, beating thoroughly to incorporate. Add flour in several additions, continuing to whisk. Finally, whisk in the spices and the lemon zest.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes to an hour, or until baked through. Cool on a rack before unmolding. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

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Happy Christmas from Jane Austen’s World



Heap on more wood! — the wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will,
We’ll keep our Christmas merry still.
Each age has deemed the new born year
The fittest time for festal cheer.
And well our Christian sires of old.
Loved when the year its course had rolled,
And brought blithe Christmas back again,
With all his hospitable train.
Domestic and religious rite
Gave honour to the holy night:
On Christmas eve the bells were rung;
On Christmas eve the mass was sung;
That only night, in all the year,
Saw the stoled priest the chalice rear.
The damsel donned her kirtle sheen;
The hail was dressed with holly green;
Forth to the wood did merry men go,
To gather in the mistletoe,
Then opened wide the baron’s hail
To vassal, tenant, serf, and all;
Power laid his rod of rule aside,
And ceremony doff’d his pride.
The heir, with roses in his shoes,
That night might village partner choose.
The lord, underogating, share
The vulgar game of “post and pair!”
All hailed with uncontroll’d delight
And general voice, the happy night
That to the cottage, as the crown,
Brought tidings of salvation down.
The fire with well dried logs supplied,
Went roaring up the chimney wide;
The huge hail table’s oaken face,
Scrubb’d till it shone, the day to grace,
Bore then upon: its massive board
No mark to part the squire and lord.
Then was brought in the lusty brawn,
By old, blue-coated serving-man;
Then the grim boar’s head frowned on high,
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Well can the green-garbed ranger tell,
How, when, and where, the monster fell;
What dogs before his death he tore,
And all the baiting of the boar.
The wassail round in good brown bowls,
Garnished with ribbon, blithely trowls.
There the huge sirloin reeked: hard by
Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas pie;
Nor failed old Scotland to produce
At such high tide her savoury goose.
Then came the merry masquers in,
And carols roar’d with blithesome din;
If unmelodious was the song,
It was a hearty note, and strong.
Who lists may in their mumming see
Traces of ancient mystery;
White shirts supplied the masquerade,
And smutted cheeks the visor made
But oh! what masquers, richly dight,
Can boast of bosoms half so light!
England was merry England when
Old Christmas brought his sports again.
’Twas Christmas broached the mightiest ale,
’Twas Christmas told the merriest tale;
A Christmas gambol oft would cheer
A poor man’s heart through half the year.

Sir Walter Scott, 1808, from Marmion

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Making traditional black butter

Inquiring readers: Reader Cora Harrison recently placed this comment on my blog: “In one letter, Jane [Austen] spoke of serving ‘black butter’ with wigeon and that she thought the butter was bad … Poor Jane, I thought. However, in reading a book called The Feast of Christmas I discovered that black butter was not butter at all, but what I would call a fruit cheese, made from equal quantities of apples, blackcurrants or blackberries and less sugar, and then boiled until it sets – and of course, the colour would be black!”

Her comment so intrigued me, that I decided to look up the topic. Jane wrote to her sister on December 27, 1808:

The first pot [of black butter] was opened when Frank and Mary were here, and proved not at all what it ought to be; it was neither solid nor entirely sweet, and on seeing it Eliza remembered that Miss Austen had said she did not think it had been boiled enough. It was made, you know, when we were absent. Such being the event of the first pot, I would not save the second, and we therefore ate it in unpretending privacy; and though not what it ought to be, part of it was very good.”

The recipe for making black butter, or apple butter as it is commonly known today, harkens back to medieval times. After the winter crop was picked, the preserve was made in huge quantities. In the 18th century, twenty percent of Jersey’s arable land was made up of orchards, and the tradition of producing ‘black butter’ or ‘Le Niere Buerre’ became an annual social  and festive occasion.  Jersey black butter was made from cider apples that were slowly boiled over a fire. Women would peel hundreds of pounds of apples, while the men and children would gather enough wood to keep the fire going for almost two days. After the cider was ‘reduced’ by half, apples, sugar, lemon, liquorice and spices were added. The Jersey tradition of making black butter included singing, dancing, and storytelling all through the night and until early morning. Jersey Island black butter is characterized by the addition of liquorice, which made the preserve quite dark. – RecipeZaar & BBC Jersey Black Butter.

According to Food Legends, black butter “contains no butter, the butter in the name being like the cheese in lemon cheese, more a description of the consistency and application of the product than anything else; and second, it is not really black, indeed a great deal of effort goes into avoiding the burning that would change the dark brown mass to black.” The following is likely Jane Austen’s recipe for Black Butter. Traditionally, the preserve is spread on bread, or it can be eaten by itself:

    Take 4 pounds of full ripe apples, and peel and core them. Meanwhile put into a pan 2 pints of sweet cider, and boil until it reduces by half. Put the apples, chopped small, to the cider. Cook slowly stirring frequently, until the fruit is tender, as you can crush beneath the back of a spoon. Then work the apple through a sieve, and return to the pan adding 1lb beaten (granulated) sugar and spices as following, 1 teaspoon clove well ground, 2 teaspoons cinnamon well ground, 1 saltspoon allspice well ground. Cook over low fire for about ¾ hour, stirring until mixture thickens and turns a rich brown. Pour the butter into into small clean jars, and cover with clarified butter when cold. Seal and keep for three months before using. By this time the butter will have turned almost black, and have a most delicious flavour. – Copyright Maria Hubert von Staufer March 1995

Black butter on bread

This recipe, which Cora must have at first thought Jane Austen was referring to, is a black butter that is generally served with fish, such as skate or salmon:

Black Butter: Put into a frying pan the necessary amount of butter, and cook it until it has a brown color and begins to smoke. At this moment add a large pinch of concassed parsley leaves and spread it immediately over the object to be treated. – Chest of Books

More on the topic:

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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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    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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