The Regency (1810 – 1820) was the time period of the Napoleonic War, of literary greats such as Jane Austen and Lord Byron. Many familiar Christmas traditions–decorating Christmas trees, singing Silent Night, waiting for Santa Claus–did not emerge until the later Victorian times, but a Regency Christmas did have other traditions still celebrated today.
Regency families decorated their houses with holly and ivy and evergreens of fir and pine. Mistletoe was hung and the tradition of a gentleman and lady kissing beneath it would have been part of a Regency Christmas. With each kiss the gentleman plucked a berry from the mistletoe. When the berries were gone, so were the kisses.
Christmas was mainly a religious holiday during the Regency. Gifts were exchanged, church attended, and guests might be invited to Christmas dinner. At Christmas dinner a goose or turkey would be served. A Regency household would also serve a Christmas pudding that was made on Stir Up Sunday, the Sunday before Advent, and served on Christmas day. The pudding was a porridge of sugar, raisins, currants, prunes, and wine that was “stirred up” and boiled together in a pudding cloth.
Some of the traditions of the Regency holiday season had their origins in ancient winter celebrations. First-Footing customs of New Year’s Day may have originated in ancient Greece. In order to have good fortune all the year, an uninvited stranger–a dark man in some areas of the UK but the hair color could vary by region–should be the first to cross the threshold on New Years Day. He might carry symbolic gifts- salt (or a coin) for wealth; coal for warmth, a match for kindling, and bread for food. The householder might offer him food and drink. In some villages one tall, dark, and handsome fellow was selected to visit all the houses, receiving food and drink at each one.
Twelfth Night, the eve of the Epiphany, was even more of a time for revelry than Christmas day during the Regency. It was a time to drink wassail (ale or wine spiced with roasted apples and sugar) and play games. A bean was buried in a cake and whoever found it was designated the Lord of Misrule who presided over all the Twelfth Night festivities, which might include theatricals or singing, although many of our most popular Christmas Carols were translated from German later in Victorian times. When Twelfth Night is over, the house decorations are removed and the season is over.
In 2006 my Christmas novella, A Twelfth Night Tale, was released in the Harlequin Historical Christmas anthology, Mistletoe Kisses. Last year the same stories were released in the UK as A Regency Christmas. Read more about them on my website. Both books are available at used book sites online. I’ll also be blogging about the holiday on the Risky Regency Blog and The Wet Noodle Posse.
Do you have any questions about a Regency Christmas?
What is your favorite Christmas tradition?