Greetings all. Regan here. With six Regency romances under my belt, I am delighted to bring you a guide to celebrating the Christmas season Regency style… to go with my two Christmas stories that are guaranteed to put you in the mood.
Christmas in Regency England, 1811-1820, when Prince George ruled in his father’s place, was a more subtle celebration than the one we observe today. To my way of thinking, perhaps it was better for it. Christmastide, as they called the season, began with Christmas Eve and continued to Twelfth Night, or January 5th, followed by the Feast of the Epiphany the next day, the official end of the Yule season.
Their celebration of the season included the simple traditions of holly and candles, roaring fires in the hearth, the smell of wassail steaming in a large bowl over the grate, and the pungent aroma of the Christmas pudding and roast goose making the mouth water. Children home from school might add the typical noise to the family gatherings, but the emphasis was on social interaction so often missing in our celebration today.
In country homes and estates where Christmas was typically celebrated, decorations went up on Christmas Eve and stayed up until Epiphany when the greens would be burned in the fireplace. Evergreens were the central part of the decorations, with boughs of holly, ivy, hawthorn, rosemary, and Christmas Rose (hellebore), depending on where you were in England.
Of course, there was also mistletoe, although it grows mostly in the western and southwestern parts of Britain. Friends or relatives in other parts of the country might send you some by the mail coach. An enterprising man might sell it on the street.
The mistletoe would more likely have been viewed as a part of a “kissing bough”—a hanging structure of evergreens, apples, paper flowers, and dolls representing Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus. Most of the traditions were steeped in the Christian faith.
Christmas Eve might also find folks sipping cups of hot wassail (spiced cider) or eggnog as they watched a performance by traveling actors, called “mummers.”
(For the recipes for wassail, eggnog and plum pudding, see here.)
The actors would parade the streets and ask at almost every door if mummers were wanted. Dressed in the most outrageous fashions with gilt and spangled caps and ribbons of various colors on their bodies, they would entertain by performing plays, ending with a song, and a collection of coins. The play these groups performed was often Alexander and the King of Egypt, featured in my story The Holly & The Thistle.
Christmas Day would, typically, begin with a trip to church for their celebration was centered on the Christ child. Afterward, there would be a grand dinner of roast goose, boar’s head (really the head of a pig, as wild boars became extinct in England as of 1185), and perhaps turkey (brought to England from the New World in 1550). Vegetables such as potatoes, squash, Brussels sprouts and carrots were also served, along with stuffing for the fowl.
Wonderful desserts ended the meal, including marchpane (what we call marzipan), and gingerbread. Another favorite dessert was Christmas plum pudding, a mixture of 13 ingredients (representing Christ and the twelve apostles): suet, brown sugar, raisins, currants, citron, lemon and orange peels, spices, crumbs, flour, eggs, milk and brandy. All this was boiled in a pudding cloth. Very tasty.
There was always Mince pie, too. While recipes varied by region, ingredients usually included beef, suet, sugar, raisins, lemons, spices, orange peel, goose, tongue, fowls, eggs, apples and brandy. This was also called Twelfth Night Pie because it was originally made with the leftovers of the Christmas dinner. The pies were eaten every day during Christmastide to ensure good luck for the twelve months of the New Year.
Wine would be served with the meal. For the heartier, there was the wassail bowl, which often included sherry or brandy. Men would have their port and cigars after dinner and women their tea, separately taken. But once they were together again, they would sing carols around the piano including Deck the Halls, Here We Come a-Wassailing, and While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks.
It was not a widespread tradition for adults to give each other gifts, though a small toy might be given to children in the family.
The day after Christmas was Boxing Day, on which you gave presents or “boxes” to those who had given you good service during the previous year. It was also a traditional day for fox hunting.
There might not be snow at Christmas, despite the story of Good King Wenceslaus. According to several sources, weather in most parts of England was often warm and damp. The winter of 1818, the year in which my stories The Twelfth Night Wager and The Holly & The Thistle are set, was a particularly warm one.
If you want to get in the mood for the season, put a log on the fire, fix yourself some wassail and dive into my stories!
The season begins with a night at the theatre and a fall house party and continues through Christmas and 12th Night in The Twelfth Night Wager:
THE REDHEADED RAKE
It was a dull day at White’s, the day he agreed to the wager: seduce bed and walk away from the lovely Lady Leisterfield, all by Twelfth Night. This holiday season, Christopher St. Ives, Viscount Eustace, planned to give himself a gift.
THE INNOCENT WIDOW
She was too proper by half—or so was the accusation of her friends, which was why her father had to find her a husband. But Lord Leisterfield was now gone a year, and Grace was at last shedding the drab colors of mourning. The house felt empty, more so during the coming Christmastide, and so tonight her coming out would begin with a scandalous piece of theater. The play would attract rogues, or so promised her friend the dowager countess. It would indeed. The night would bring about the greatest danger—and the greatest happiness—that Grace had ever known.
For a limited time, The Twelfth Night Wager is on sale for 99¢ on Amazon (and all those other online bookstores!)
And then, should you want to continue the celebration in the same season, there is The Holly & The Thistle that includes all the Christmas traditions. It can be read as a "stand alone" and is also 99¢ on Amazon and all those other online bookstores.
Here's the description:
A chance meeting at Berry’s wine shop, a misunderstanding and Christmastide all come together to allow the most handsome Scot in London to give Lady Emily Picton the best Christmas gift ever: a marriage not of convenience, but of love.
I wish you all a wonderful holiday season and a blessed Christmastide!