Christmastide in Regency times was a prolonged period of celebration, compared to our modern holiday, for those who could enjoy it. Public holidays did not exist so for the working class it was not a given that the day would be given
It began on December 6th, Saint Nicholas’ Day. This was marked by exchanging small gifts.
Christmastide ended on January 6th, otherwise known as ‘Twelfth Night’, marking Epiphany.
For those who could celebrate Saint Nicholas’s Day, it was a period for parties, suppers, and balls to be held. But for all who had them it was a time for family and friends.
This period did carry the feeling of ‘goodwill’ so it was expected that charity would be given to the poor, particularly on December 21st, Saint Thomas’s Day when the widows of soldiers who had died in the Napoleonic wars would go ‘Thomasing’, calling at the kitchen doors seeking alms or food parcels.
On Christmas Eve holly and evergreens would be gathered and brought into the house to decorate and bring in the fresh small of nature. Garlands and wreaths would be woven with rosemary, bay, and laurel, and then embellished with apples, oranges, ribbons, and holly berries.
Mistletoe brought its own added spice to the festivities as kissing balls or boughs were made from it, a tradition that still lingers today. With each exchanged kiss a berry was plucked, once all the berries were gone then the kissing had to stop.
A candle was lit on Christmas Eve and the Yule log was brought in wrapped in hazel twigs and custom stated that it should be lit with a remnant of last year’s log. The fire would then be kept burning as long as possible and be at the heart of family gatherings; a small piece being saved for the next year.
On Christmas Day people attended church and then the gentry had a celebratory dinner of turkey, venison, or goose for the gentry, followed by plum pudding. Much of the seasonal food could be prepared ahead of time with a favourite being cold, brawn pies.
The next day, Saint Stephen’s Day, was a day for charity. Richer people gave servants and tenants their ‘Christmas boxes’, usually gifts of money, hence it becomes known as ‘Boxing Day’.
Finally, on the twelfth night there might be a party held with much dancing and singing. Hot spiced, mulled, wine was offered, and a special cake made to share amongst all the members of the household.
Games such as ‘bobbing for apples,’ and ‘snapdragon’ – a game where raisins were soaked in a brandy in a large shallow bowl, were enjoyed. A more challenging one involved candles being blown out and the brandy lit, people then had to try and grab a raisin and eat it without burning themselves – health and safety was yet to be implemented!
Men’s names were put into a hat so that ladies could then pick a name out to be her partner for the night.
A C17 yew wood wassail bowl.
A wassail bowl was often carried from house to house, filled with warmed ale, mulled wine, or punch, sometimes accompanied by the singing of carols.
The feeling of goodwill to all humankind was the message of the season. It depended on where you were on the social scale from impoverished to rich as to how much you could be a part of the tradition, but the feeling and love shared at this time was priceless then, just as it is today.
Merry Christmas and season’s greetings to all my readers!
Ellie encounters a handsome stranger, when escaping the claustrophobic presence of her widowed aunt, Mrs Hemming in The Old Hall. She is initially distressed and annoyed, until he introduces himself as Mr. Montgomery Cookson causing Ellie’s dark clouds to instantly lift, for she knows they will formally meet again.
Mrs Hemming homed the deserted Ellie, whilst bringing up her two cousins, Dorcas and Sybil, despite the ruinous reputation of her mother for deserting her husband and child.
Ellie had been shocked and scared, when infirmed she was expected to marry Mrs. Hemming’s own cousin, Mr. MONTGOMERY COOKSON.
But has Ellie met her match in Mr. Cookson?
Will her future be as grim as she envisaged?
When Fate has cast a shadow over her life for so long, can destiny shine a light into Ellie’s world?
Will Ellie finally discover who she really is?