A Regency Festive Season
By Giselle Marks
“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens gave most of us our first indication that Christmas was celebrated differently in the past than how we do today. Charles Dickens wrote mostly in his own period and “the Carol” is set in three time-spans; past, present and future to make his point about celebrating Christmas with the proper festive spirit. It is easy to assume a Victorian traditional Christmas was how it had always been. But Christmas trees came to Britain from Germany with the Prince Consort Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and most of our favourite Christmas carols are only Victorian in origin.
This article is going out on or just after Christmas so I decided to discuss the celebration of Christmas in England in the Regency period. Both of my Regency novels touch on the festivities at Christmas and on St Stephen’s day which is now known in the Western World as Boxing Day. I very nearly made a serious mistake about that in “the Fencing Master’s Daughter.” As my heroine Madelaine is half French, I wrote the chapter headings in French. I correctly translated St Stephen to Stephan in French and no one noticed the mistake. I would have been correct for French speaking Swiss but the French themselves call that particular St Stephen, St Etienne. But luckily I spotted that mistake before publication.
Oliver Cromwell, who led the Commonwealth in Britain after the execution of Charles I, banned all celebration of Christmas throughout the country, a ban that caused riots and the taking over of Canterbury by the population who decorated all the building with holly as part of their protest. Christmas was reinstated by Charles II and the carrying in of a Yule log was resumed, along with decorating homes with fir branches, holly and ivy tied with colourful ribbons accompanied by parties and lavish festive food and drink to celebrate the twelve days of the feast of Christmas. Twelfth night, the 6th of January was the traditional day when all decorations would be taken down and life would resume as usual.
Many of the clergy still disapproved of the celebration of Christmas and in Scotland such festivities were discouraged by the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Christmas was not officially made a holiday in Scotland until 1958.
English Christmas Carols were first identified by a Shropshire chaplain, John Awdley in 1426 who transcribed “25 Caroles of Christmas” which were probably sung by groups of “wassailers.” Wassailers expected to be supplied with drink and food by their hosts, as a wassail was both a toast and the drink, frequently spiced heated cider. But reformers like Martin Luther authored Christmas Carols encouraging their use. “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”, “The First Noel”, “I Saw Three Ships” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” are printed in Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (1833) by William Sandys which is slightly later than the Regency period
“Personent hodie”, “Good King Wenceslas”, and “The Holly and the Ivy” go back to the Middle Ages, and are among the oldest musical compositions still regularly sung. The favourite “Silent Night” was first performed in the Regency in Nikolaus-Kirche (Church of St. Nicholas) in Oberndorf, Austria in 1818. But did not appear in English until 1871 when published in a Methodist hymnal.
While Christian services became a large part of Christmas festivities in England, most British would enjoy a feast, presents and family parties to celebrate the birth of the Christ child. Most good landowners and employers gave some small presents to their tenants’ families and employees at Christmas as is shown in “the Fencing Master’s Daughter” where Edward gives a party on Christmas Eve for his tenants’ and villagers’ families. Here is a tiny sample of that book about the preparations for that party.
“The banqueting hall had already been festooned with greenery under cousin Almira’s direction and barrels of beer and cider had been placed on trestle tables at one side of the hall to settle after being rolled into position. The banqueting hall was not much used except for open days and was adjacent to Chalcombe Manor’s ballroom which would be used for country dancing in the afternoon of the party. Cousin Almira was directing a group of maids over the arrangement of garlands of beribboned greenery around the ballroom as footmen climbed ladders to tend the vast chandeliers arranging fresh candles in each holder.”
The family then attended Church and spent the Christmas Day itself largely by themselves but the following day held a ball for the local gentry. It is also traditional for landowners to hold shooting parties over their land either before or after Christmas Day as part of their social activities. In “the Marquis’s Mistake” I do not dwell on how Christmas was celebrated around the Duke’s seat of Langsdown Castle, as at this point in the story what happens to Alicia is more important. She has a fairly quiet Christmas in Aylesbury along with her family.
Here is a small snippet from the Marquis’s Mistake:
“Christmas came and was enjoyed by all, there was plenty of good food and everyone had a good time. They attended church in Aylesbury together and then sat down to a fine goose for dinner. Alicia missed Sebastian but she joined in with the children’s games playing spillikins and charades with delight. The girls were very pleased with their presents, mostly of new prettier clothes.”
But the giving of gifts was quite open in the Regency period and was not ascribed to Santa Claus or even St Nicholas, because those traditions are more modern. Whether you hold a Christian celebration, celebrate the pagan festivals of Yule or Saturnalia or perhaps practice any other religion, may I wish you a very happy holiday and hope you all enjoy your festivities in your own ways. As the Angels announced in Luke 2:14:-
“Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men.”
The Marquis’s Mistake
by Giselle Marks
Devastatingly handsome Sebastian, Marquis of Farndon awaits a lady, a present from his best friend Stephen for his thirtieth birthday. Alicia Lambert fleeing from a forced marriage is shown into his room by mistake. Inebriated from celebrating his return to England, Sebastian disbelieves her protests and is reluctant to let her escape. Meeting him later in London, Alicia is relieved he does not recognise her. But when he pursues her and proposes marriage, she doubts his feelings for her are real. Sebastian wants to protect Alicia from the machinations of the blackguard Major Mallinder as he fears for her life and that of her aunt Maud. But will Sebastian’s natural intelligence be enough to deal with the ruthlessness of Alexander Mallinder?
About the Author
Giselle Marks has been writing for many years. She has written two Regency Romances and a Fantasy/ Sci-fi series with erotic content. Her first published novel, The Fencing Master’s Daughter was launched by Front Porch Romance in September 2013. Her second Regency Romance, The Marquis’s Mistake was released by them in December 2013. Her Fantasy series, The Zeninan Saga is currently being edited by Nevermore Press and should start appearing in the near future. They hope to release the first in the saga, Princess of Zenina in February to March 2014. Giselle is currently working on an erotic fantasy novella called Lucy, which she hopes will be available in next year and a number of other projects.