Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Grandmaw Got Runned Over By Mr. Darcy

Well, here we are in the middle of that most sacred of American holidays - HalloThankMas. The Halloween candy and merchandise is on sale for 75% off ! Okay, the candy is long gone because chocoholics like me swooped in on that stuff the day after Halloween like a ten times bridesmaid after a bouquet fumble. But who doesn't need an Elsa costume marked down to $2.99? Especially as your kid will probably want to go as Miley Cyrus next year, which is a much cheaper costume, trust me.

Stores are wall to wall pumpkin pies, pumpkin rolls, pumpkin cupcakes, pumpkin tarts, pumpkin candles, and pumpkin scented toilet paper. Meat departments have turkeys in every available bunker and stacked to the ceiling of a refrigerated truck out back. Of course if the generator kicks off they're going to need a helluva lot of pumpkin air freshener to clean it up.

The Christmas trees and ornaments have been up since the day after Labor Day and those toy catalogs have been blasting enough subliminal messages at your kids to make A Clockwork Orange look like a Sunday School picnic!

Soon it will be time for that world renowned athletic contest for which we've all been waiting. A test of wills, brute force and strategic thinking. Some athletes train a lifetime for this event and some rank amateurs will fall to injury and mayhem. Yes, I'm talking about that Running of the Spandex - that WWF Smackdown - that NASCAR of the Shopping Carts - that Conflagration known to make grown men run screaming home to their mamas - BLACK FRIDAY !!

Is it just me or has Christmas become an event designed to draw out the Redneck in Americans all over the country? When women old enough to be my grandmother fight over Egyptian cotton sheets at Walmart and have to be separated by a SWAT team, it doesn't matter if those women are duking it out in Jasper, Alabama or Rochester, New York. You HAVE a Redneck Situation.

I write Regency set romance to escape all of the hustle and bustle of the modern world. The genteel society and pretty manners are soothing after dealing with a Bridezilla who wants a five-tier camouflage wedding cake with a deer head topper.

Christmas in Regency England was very different from the holiday we celebrate today. It was actually quite different from the holiday depicted in many of the historical romance novels and period costume dramas we so love. And yet, some aspects of a Regency Christmas make me think Mr. Darcy may well have had to suffer through holiday visits to Pemberley from some of his Regency Redneck Relations.

The Christmas Season during the Regency could stretch from St. Nicholas Day (December 6th) to Twelfth Night (Epiphany / January 6th.) Imagine having to spend a month in the house with all of your relations and any friends who had nowhere else to go? This season was often celebrated with a house party. For those of you who don't know, a house party often meant you had to make room and provide food for your guests, their servants, and their horses for the duration of the party. You know those redneck relatives who come for Thanksgiving and don't leave until after New Year's Day? Imagine doing that with no television, no internet, no cell phones and limited access to hot water.

For some families it might start even earlier as the last Sunday before Advent was called "Stir Up Sunday." On this day the family's Christmas pudding was stirred up and left covered in the pantry to wait to be topped with brandy and set on fire for Christmas dinner. Christmas pudding consisted of thirteen ingredients in memory of Christ and his twelve apostles. Each member of the family took a turn stirring the pudding with a wooden spoon (symbolizing the manger and the cross.) Whilst doing so the stirrer would close their eyes and make a wish.

A Christmas tradition certain to send Walmart CEO's screaming into the streets, decorations were not brought into the house until Christmas Eve Day. They consisted of mistletoe, holly, hellebore, rosemary, and fir tree branches. Red ribbons might be added, but nothing else was bought in a store. And all of this greenery was taken down on Twelfth Night and burned to prevent bad luck. 

There was no Santa Claus and no hanging of stockings. Gift giving was acceptable on Christmas Day, but more often than not gifts were exchanged on Boxing Day (December 26th) or Twelfth Night. Boxing Day took its name from the boxes of food and little gifts made up for a landowners' tenants and for those in need. And in turn a landowner's tenants might bestow a gift on him - usually something to represent the harvest or the service the tenant provided to the master. (So even Regency bosses gave out Christmas bonuses! Are you listening, Walmart?)

Under the heading of a Regency version of "Hey y'all, watch this!" comes the Christmas game of Snapdragon. Raisins were soaked in brandy in a large shallow bowl. The lights were turned out, and the brandy lit. People had to try and grasp a raisin and eat it without burning themselves. I think you'd have to soak me in brandy to get me to try it!

There were no Christmas carolers in Regency England. However, there were wassail groups who would go from house to house singing begging songs in the hope of receiving food, drink, and money. Wassail was a mixture of beer, wine and brandy and was usually served to the singers at each house. I think I've seen groups like this around my neighborhood at Christmas-time.

There were no Christmas trees during the Regency. Christmas trees were introduced to England by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the middle of the 19th century. However, on Epiphany Eve, men would gather round a tree, usually in an orchard, with cider and guns. In an ancient ceremony, they would drink to the tree and fire the guns to drive away evil spirits and promote the vigor of the trees. Horn-blowing was an alternative to firing guns. (Sounds like a Regency tail-gating party to me!)

These are just a few of the Christmas traditions celebrated during the Regency era. As many of you have heard, my publication debut will be coming out by December 3rd. My Regency Christmas novella A PERFECTLY DREADFUL CHRISTMAS is set to be published in the Regency Christmas Anthology CHRISTMAS REVELS along with novellas by three established and wonderful authors - Kate Parker, Hannah Meredith and Anna D. Allen.

This was such a fun project and I am forever grateful to these three ladies for allowing me to join them.

What are your thoughts on Christmas traditions? Do you have any unusual or long held Christmas traditions in your family? Do you intend to gird your loins and venture into the madness that is Black Friday? And do you think you could stand to spend an entire month entertaining your relatives over the Christmas holidays?     



Alicia Coleman said...

No unusual Christmas traditions for me, just regular mundane stuff. I'm too scared to attempt Black Friday. I'd rather remain unscathed. Congratulations on your novella release in the anthology. I look forward to reading it in December.

Louisa Cornell said...

I happen to find a great deal of comfort in the mundane when it comes to holidays these days, Alicia! If I didn't have to work Black Friday you would not catch me within ten miles of a shopping venue on that day! Unscathed is good! Thanks so much for the Congrats. I hope you enjoy the anthology when it finally goes live! :)

Gina Danna said...

Great post! Love the comparing to Walmart - insert Target & we're sisters! As to unusual habits, I don't have any but in Queen Victoria's time, the Xmas tree was put up on a table (small tree) & presents (toys, dolls) for kids not wrapped but hung from the branches. It was not a slew of toys either. Plus they lit the candles to light the tree right before the kids arrived - & quickly put it out! Love to see a tree with candlelight personally. Plus, the days after, which I can't recall, the young men would go from house to house, bang on the door & wouldn't leave till you gave them a drink. Kinda like Halloween for adults! LOL Wild!

Louisa Cornell said...

Ah yes, Gina! The joys of working retail during the holidays! Hang in there, sister! I can understand why they lit the candles and put them out rather quickly. A Christmas tree lit with candles is a London Great Fire waiting to happen! See, I told you those nineteenth century Englishmen had their redneck moments! Thanks for stopping by!

Carla Swafford said...

Great post, Louisa! My favorite line is "A Christmas tradition certain to send Walmart CEO's screaming into the streets..." LOL!

Callie James said...

What a wonderful post, and such a good reminder of why I love historical/regency but don't want to write it. I can't keep up with today's traditions, much less historical pastimes.

I'm mundane. We don't even put anything up. Maybe light a scented pine candle. Anymore I'm just so busy I look at decorations as yet one more thing to take down. So I don't put anything up. I do try to bake new things each year and I always get the yummy coffees at Starbucks that only come out during the holiday season. Peppermint mocha. Pumpkin latte. Ginger latte. Sugar cookie .... yum!

Thanks for such a great post. I enjoyed it!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Carla! The idea of no store bought decorations has to be a Walmart exec's worst nightmare!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you, Callie! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. The overblown Black Friday festivities are a Christmas tradition I can do without! And I completely understand the time it takes to put up Christmas decorations only to take them down. I confess my latest tradition is strictly a bow to my own laziness. I have a little four foot tree decorated with all of my favorite decorations from my decoration collections (Yes, I used to bring out a different theme every year.) That tree stands in the back bedroom year round. On Thanksgiving Day I bring it out into the living room, set it up on the television hutch and turn on the lights. Voila! Instant Christmas. Then on Epiphany I carefully take it down and put it back in that bedroom. (It goes on the television hutch to discourage Frodo the Horrible from hiking his leg on it.

Elisa Beatty said...

Drunk men with guns gathered around a tree in the dark...what could possibly go wrong?

Great post, Louisa!

Betty Bolte said...

Louisa, this is a great post! I love historical tidbits like this! Congrats on your new release, too! As for Black Friday, it's a tradition in my family to go shopping and have lunch out (girls only) and then more shopping. No SWAT teams or karate needed to browse and chat and spend the day together, either! ;-)

Louisa Cornell said...

My thoughts exactly, Elisa! You know those stories where the youngest son inherits the title because the father and two or three older brothers are killed in a horrible accident? Natural selection at its finest!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks so much, Betty! You and your family do Black Friday right. Low pressure, just for fun and enjoying each others company. That's a great approach and is much less likely to attract a SWAT team!

Vanessa Barneveld said...

Fabulous post, Louisa! You know, I never knew the history behind Boxing Day. I do like having the day off after Christmas. Much-needed recovery time!

So looking forward to reading your novella. That'll be my first Christmas pressie to myself. :)

Tereasa said...

Great post and congrats on the novella

Louisa Cornell said...

Any day off after Christmas is much needed, Vanessa! Thanks so much for stopping by! I hope you enjoy the anthology!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks so much, Tereasa. I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

Carla Swafford said...

Loved that post. You've got a great sense of humor. I can't wait to read your book too. Wonderful.

Still waiting for the man-whore book too.

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Carla! I'm looking forward to hearing what you think of the anthology.

And yes, one way or another the Manwhore is going to be loosed on the world!

I'm waiting to see how this anthology goes and I've been learning everything I can about indie publishing.

Cari Hislop said...

Congratulations from me too on being included in an anthology! I hope you let us all know when we can purchase a copy.

I haven't yet braved Christmas in my Regencies (seriously though - who in their right mind would want to spend a month with either friends or relations for a month? I love my family, but I think we'd end up one of those Christmas Gone Bad News Reports if we even attempted it. Actually if all my 6 siblings, their partners, children and both my parents (who are divorced) were to attempt such an insanity I could guarantee someone would end up arrested by the end of the month. And that's without drink, drugs or gun collections being involved. Not good!

As for personal traditions...I like to make a new Christmas decoration each year. Some years that's just been snow flakes for my windows. Several years I made gingerbread cookies for the tree (using purchased dough - i'm not completely insane), but last year I did go mad and made twenty odd stuffed frogs for my Christmas tree. I don't know why I had to have a froggy Christmas, but I did. This year I've got to have some Chinese decorations...I'm going to have a Hoppy Chinese Christmas. My husband has no say. He doesn't care what's on the tree as long as he gets something good underneath it. ;)

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Cari ! I'm with you on the family for a month. With two brothers who haven't spoken to each other in a few years, their wives, their children, one grandchild and my Mom and I - someone would die. Not pretty! I don't make new ornaments every year, but I do try to add one or two to my collection every year. I have different theme sets of ornaments and I add to one or more sets each year. Found some great masked ball ornaments this year!