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?