Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Regency Christmas


Some insights into Christmas time during the Regency are needed when writing a Christmas story, which I am. It is especially timely so I thought I would share some of what I have learned and which will in some form or another be incorporated into my story. (More about that another time).

In Victorie Count De Soligny's Letters on England, we learn some interesting tidbits. I should mention that the Count is far from impressed by the serious character of the English nature. We didn't enjoy ourselves enough for him.

He tells us that during the fortnight (two weeks) before Christmas arrives in London, i.e. now, itinerant players,  called Waits, wander the streets of London playing carols. He calls it sweet low music, which by the time you wake up to hear it, the players have moved on, to be heard only in the distance.  These players would go house to house on the day after Christmas Day -- the day we know as Boxing Day -- seeking a small deucement (money).

In a similar vein the Bell-man, or watchman would also stroll the streets ringing his bell and chanting in an ill-sounding voice (according to De Soligny, remember) and also come round on Boxing Day for money. You can tell which one of these our Count preferred.

This tradition was left over from earlier centuries when such carol singing in the streets was encouraged.  Oliver Cromwell sent it underground until the Victorian times were well underway, but it seems as if carol singers might well have been heard in town and country celebrating the arrival of Christmas. I wonder if they will show up in my story?

De Soligny was very pleased by another tradition, that of decorating the interior of houses with evergreens, laurel, bay, ilex and particularly holly with it glittering leaves and bright red berries, which are stuck in windows and over the mantelpieces and wreaths of them hung against the walls.

Oh yes, I feel a scene coming on.

The Count notes that in the kitchen or the servants' hall, a large bunch of mistletoe is suspended from the ceiling, underneath which the maidens are liable to be kissed, if they are caught by the male part of the household.

And that is just perfect for my story.

More Christmas in the Regency to come next time.