The Write Way Café welcomes author Regan Walker, who shares the delights of Christmastide in Regency England and how it contrasts with today's typical Christmas traditions in the U.S.
|Regency Christmas Party|
Christmas Day would, typically, begin with a trip to church. After, there would be a 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 march pane (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.
|Regency Christmas Dinner|
Since water was not safe to drink, wine was served with the meal. For the heartier, there was the wassail bowl, which often included sherry or brandy.
Carols sung around the piano might include Deck the Halls, Here We Come a-Wassailing, and While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks. Joy to the World, though first published by Isaac Watts in 1719, wasn’t in the modern version until 1836. Hark the Harold Angels Sing was first written in 1739 by Charles Wesley, and amended in 1753 by George Whitfield. However, Mendelssohn didn’t write the modern version we sing today until 1840. Silent Night was written in 1816 by Joseph Mohr, but wasn't translated into English until 1863.
Christmas Day was also the day on which a gift or tithe was given to the landowner. It was not a widespread tradition to give each other gifts, though a small toy might be given to the child in the family.
Another Regency Christmas tradition was the Christmas pantomime. The pantomime usually opened on Boxing Day. Joseph Grimaldi, the famous clown who lived from 1779 to 1837 regularly performed in one at the Drury Lane theatre. In my story the heroine is planning to attend the performance—that is, until the hero helps her deliver charity baskets to the orphanage. Acts of kindness to the less fortunate also characterized the holiday season.
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. You did not necessarily have to worry about snow near Christmas, despite the story of Good King Wenceslaus. According to several sources, weather in most parts of England is often warm and damp. The winter of 1818, the year in which my novella The Twelfth Night Wager and my short story The Holly & The Thistle are set, was a particularly warm one.
|Twelfth Night Players|
The things that would be missing from Christmas in the Regency would be the Christmas tree and stockings hung by the fire. Christmas trees were a German tradition that while brought to George III’s home by his wife Charlotte, was not widely incorporated into the holiday traditions until Queen Victoria’s time.
Instead, a Regency Christmas contained the simple traditions of holly and candles and good, 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 watering the mouth and filling the imagination. Children home from school might add the typical noise to the family gatherings but the emphasis was on social interaction that is, unfortunately, so often missing in our celebration today.
About Regan: Bestselling author Regan Walker loved to write stories as a child, particularly those about adventure-loving girls, but by the time she got to college more serious pursuits took priority. One of her professors encouraged her to pursue the profession of law, which she did. Years of serving clients in private practice and several stints in high levels of government gave her a love of international travel and a feel for the demands of the “Crown” on its subjects. Hence her romance novels often involve a demanding sovereign who taps his subjects for “special assignments.” In each of her novels, there is always real history and real historic figures.
Regan lives in San Diego with her golden retriever, Link, whom she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses.