Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Celebrating Christmas-Regency Style

SOURCE: Charles Kinkel. "Santa Claus Galop" Sheet music cover. New York: Peter's, J.L., 1874. Sheet music cover for the music "Santa Claus Galop" by Charles Kinkel. Cover art portrays a young girl at a Christmas tree in the 1870s with a doll and tea setSanta Claus in the chimney in the top right corner.

“Christmas is come and gone, and I am again alone! That it is not good for man to be so, is a truth which eleven years of absolute solitude have taught me too often to feel, though it is chiefly at this precise period that a sense of utter loneliness finds vent in thought, if not in words. It is not in spring, when the woods are vocal, and the fields instinct with life; —it is not in summer, when a contemplative mind finds "tongues in running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything;" —still less amid the sober stillness of autumn—the year's grey twilight, when man holds communings with his spirit, too deep and awful to be shared with his nearest and dearest, —that the burden of solitude becomes oppressive. No! It is when, after partaking in the refined, the social, or the domestic joys of those among whose firesides custom and consanguinity have divided my holidays, I return to the cheerless meal and silent vigil of my own bachelor home.”
~“The Bachelor’s Christmas” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine January 1828, Number CXXXIV, Volume XXIII

Oh, our poor Regency (well, post-Regency) bachelor! In the January 1828 issue Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, our hero recounts his sad tale of love lost. In the end, he helps his nephew marry his true love. But this kind act drops our bachelor into a fresh pot of misery. His nephew and bride depart to begin their new lives, leaving our restless bachelor to rediscover what it means to truly be alone.

What lover of romance, especially a lover of historical romance, can read the words of this lonely man and not dream ways to give him the happy ending he longs for?

So let’s do just that...Let's give him the happy ending he deserves.

Picture a worthy widow who is as lonely as our dashing rogue. Perhaps she’s down to her last penny and finds herself wassailing with a group of ladies and gentlemen who share her same misfortune. They sing door to door for a little bit of food and if they’re really lucky, a halfpence coin.

I can already hear her clear, melodic voice singing an old Christmas carol that paints a beautiful picture of an English Christmas scene.

“Lo! now is come our gladdest feast,
Let every man be jolly,
Each room with ivy leaves is dress'd,
And every post with holly.
Now all our neighbours' chimneys smoke,
And Christmas blocks are burning,
Their ovens they with baked meats choke,
And all their spits are turning.
Without the door let sorrow lie,
And if with cold it chance to die,
We'll bury it in a Christmas pie,
And evermore be merry.”
~ The Christmas Box: An Annual Present to Young Persons, edited by T. Crofton Croker, Esq. 1829

But what’s this? An icy slip? She tumbles down our bachelor’s doorsteps, twisting her ankle and knocking her head. Our lonely bachelor, seeing that the lovely widow is hurt, rushes out into the cold and carries her into his warm parlor. He offers her and her friends hot tea and refreshments from his kitchen. And he’s so charmed by our brave widow that he invites them all to join him for a dinner of Christmas Pie (mincemeat pie).

From that small act of kindness, a romance blooms.

Ah, romance...

My Regency romances spring from kernels of ideas just like this one. Each new idea a precious gift. It's like the excitement and magic of opening presents at Christmas, discovering new stories to write about fills me with joy and—yes—sleepless nights as a writer’s version of sugarplums dance in my head at night.

There’s the tortured marquess, Nigel, who hides his true passions—especially his love for the poor widowed, Elsbeth—beneath an icy mask. ~ The Nude, May 2009 (On sale for Kindle $0.99!)

Then there’s Nathan, the wild, out-of-control rogue, who longs for a steady wife to tame him. ~ Lady Iona’s Rebellion, June 2007 (On sale for Kindle $0.99!)

And I can’t forget my unhappy bachelor, Radford, who after a brush with death decides it’s time to take a wife. He makes a list of requirements for his a suitable spouse only to discover the untamed lady who makes his heart race meets none of his requirements. ~ The Marriage List, May 2005 (On sale for Kindle $0.99!)

And although their stories have been told, these characters are as real to me as anyone I know. I can’t help but sometimes wonder about what they are up to. What are they doing this Christmas?

To help answer that question, I have researched some Regency Christmas traditions:

Trimming a Tree: The tradition of decorating a Christmas tree was just arriving in England in the 1800s. Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, carried the tradition with her from her German homeland. Her biographer, Dr. John Watkins, provides an account of the scene:

In the middle of the room stood an immense tub with a yew tree placed in it, from the branches of which hung bunches of sweetmeats, almonds, and raisins in papers, fruits and toys, most tastefully arranged, and the whole illuminated by small wax candles. After the company had walked around and admired the tree, each child obtained a portion of the sweets which it bore together with a toy and then all returned home, quite delighted.”

Don’t forget to station a footman beside the tree to tend the candles. We don’t want a fire!

Deck the Halls: This is an ancient tradition of decorating the interior and exterior of the home with holly, ivy, and other evergreens. In some areas it was considered unlucky to bring evergreens into the house before Christmas, so the decorating wouldn’t take place until Christmas Eve or even until Christmas Day.

Visit Family and Friends: As it still is, the holiday season is a time to pay calls on family and friends. You might bring a small gift for the host and his family. Books were just as popular gifts then as they are now.

Plan a Feast: Finally, what is a celebration without a grand feast? 

When you sit down at 4:00 pm for Christmas dinner in a grand manor house with your relatives, get ready to tuck in, for you’ll be feasting on either roast beef or venison served with fowl such as goose, capon, pheasant, swan or peacock.

Winter vegetables included potatoes, squash, Brussels sprouts and carrots.

And don’t forget the Christmas pie!

For dessert (is there room?) you’ll nibble on a fare that might include Christmas pudding, gingerbread, butter shortbread, trifle and syllabub.

Wine and wassail along with a healthy heaping of good cheer would be served along with the meal.

Ah, I don’t know about you, I’m stuffed. I believe I’ll retire to the library to catch up on my reading while the children pester their fathers to play outside in the snow.

No matter what holiday you celebrate this season, or how you celebrate it, take some time and have a very merry holiday this year!


Dorothy McFalls writes romantic suspense, mystery, Regency romances, and cozy mysteries. 

Visit her website: to learn more about Dorothy and her books.

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