Traditional Regency Christmas

Regency Christmas traditions varied widely from region to region and even family to family. Generally, the upper classes of Regency England didn’t treat it as a special day beyond a Christmas church service and the exchange of small, mostly hand-made gifts within the family. Ordinary household items such as pen wipers and fire spills seem to have been common gifts, as well. The middle classes made a bigger event out of Christmas than their so called “betters.” Lucky them!

The reason why Christmas became so understated is largely due to Thomas Cromwell, who served as Chief Minister during the reign of King Henry VIII. Cromwell and his cronies virtually stamped out Christmas celebrations due to their pagan licentious superstition which often resulted in drunken brawls and even vandalism. Although I seldom approve of the destruction of any holiday, I can’t really blame him for his disapproval of that sort of misbehavior. Fortunately, the Restoration revived Old Christmas into a new, toned-down version of its former bawdy revelry to one of quiet worship and time together with family. During the Regency, more and more celebratory customs cropped up. I suspect many families practiced many of those customs all along secretly. Yorkshire is an area that seemed to hold on the most tightly to the Old Christmas traditions, and the did them openly when it became permissible to do so.

While researching English Christmas customs, I found journal entries and letters describing family events at the Big House, many of which I incorporated into my newest novel, Christmas Secrets. I exercised my creative license to have the local tradition include a ball at the big house, gathering greenery including a mistletoe “kissing ball,” the Yule Log, and especially carols, along with other fun aspects of the season on Christmas Eve.

Largely thanks to Queen Victoria’s husband bringing his German traditions with him to England, Victorian Christmas customs grew into the ‘traditional’ Christmas we all know and love with carolers, a wider variety of gifts and recipients, Yule logs, Christmas puddings, cards, Christmas trees, many of the carols we know and love, and so forth.

Travel in winter in England during the Regency was extremely hazardous, therefore it was rarely done. Christmas house parties had to wait until railroads made winter journeys more feasible which happened after 1840. Of course, I and every other author I have read largely ignores this, although I did make mention of people not wishing to travel far due to the weather.

A odd custom that dates back centuries is telling scary ghost stories. This age-old tradition dates so far back that I couldn’t find its origin. Aside from the traditional Christmas story, A Christmas Carol, I’m happy that telling ghost stories is no longer part of our Christmas customs. Can you imagine getting a child to bed who is both excited about presents and frightened of the ghosts? Now that is scary!

What are some of your favorite Christmas customs?

 

The Magic of a Mistletoe Kiss

The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe is as ancient as it is fun. No one seems to know the true origin of kissing under the mistletoe, but most sources seem to trace it back to old Scandinavia. It probably stems from pagan rituals, as do most Christmas traditions, even Christmas itself.

Druids believed mistletoe possessed magical powers of healing—even against poison—and helped improve fertility. Other herbology claims mistletoe is both an aphrodisiac and an abortive plant, which might be why some of the earliest customs involved more than an innocent kiss.

In the Celitc language, mistletoe means literally, “all-healer.” Modern medicine cannot prove this, so it probably comes from superstition based on the phenomenon that even in the dead of winter, mistletoe stays green and healthy because it is feeding off the trees serving as its host. Druids performed a sacred sacrificial ritual underneath the mistletoe for the benefit of sick or infertile land and animals.

But getting back to the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. Its earliest uses are linked to its symbolism of peace. Supposedly warring parties would lay down their weapons and declare a truce while in the presence of mistletoe. Quarreling couples would kiss and make up underneath a sprig of mistletoe. This probably led later to the tradition to simply kissing anyone “caught” standing underneath the mistletoe, which later led to interesting–and not always innocent–situations. Until recently, the young man would traditionally pluck off one of the white berries after kissing a girl. When all the berries were plucked, the kissing, at least while under the mistletoe, also ceased. Reportedly, maids in a boarding house would wait under the mistletoe, get kissed, and then the men were expected to pay a shilling.

At one point, the “kissing bunch” became a Christmas decoration in England early American homes. The kissing bunch was constructed of two hoops tied into a round frame, then decorated with ribbons, holly, apples, oranges and other bright fruits. In the center of the frame rested figures of the infant Christ, Mary, and Joseph. A sprig of mistletoe hung below this.

In my Regency Christmas novella, A Winter’s Knight, which is included in A Timeless Romance Anthology, Winter Collection, a mistletoe kiss leads to heart-rending choice.  A Winter’s Knight begins when Clarissa Fairchild’s coach breaks down in front of forbidding Wyckburg Castle, a place where generations of earls have murdered their young brides. An adventurer at heart, Clarissa is as horrified as she is fascinated. When she meets widower Christopher de Champs, Earl of Wyckburg, she’s torn between fleeing for her life or uncovering the handsome earl’s terrible secret which may land her in the middle of a deadly curse.

In my Christmas Regency novella, Mistletoe Magic,  there are lots of plots that center around a magical mistletoe kiss, but the end result is not what anyone expected!

So the next time you need a good kissing, stand under a bunch of mistletoe in the vicinity of a person you’d like to kiss, (bring your own mistletoe if necessary) and expect a kiss. Throat-clearing may help. But remember, no berry plucking or shilling paying necessary!