Friday, December 19, 2014

A Regency Christmas

Here are a few more traditions from the Regency, you might enjoy.

One of the things we have to remember, by the way, is that a Christmas tradition in one region of Britain, might not be traditional in another. It is only recently that we have become so widely connected, likely one way some of the Christmas practices were able to survive in spite of Oliver Cromwell's best efforts.


Information taken from The Sporting Magazine (1820)



For example, in Whitby, North Yorkshire, during the two weeks before Christmas, numbers of poor wretches, mostly female, strolled
from door to door, sometimes singly and sometimes in pairs carrying circular baskets or boxes of ornamented pasteboard (what we today would call cardboard) some in which is place a wax doll as an image of Christ  surrounded by sprigs of box wood, with two or three applies or oranges.  Called vessel cups, the women would stand at a door and sing a hymn. To send them away empty handed, was to court bad luck for the coming year.

The example here is one carried on a pole and the picture is taken from here where you will find lots more information about the Vessel Cup, or Wassail Box.

The Sporting Magazine also reports the following about Christmas traditions in Whitby:


Christmas-Eve is celebrated in almost every family by a supper, the chief dish of which is frumenty, made of steeped wheat, boiled with milk and seasoned with sugar and spice; after which comes apple-pie, and lastly cheese and gingerbread. The gingerbread cake, in each family that can afford it, weighs from four to eight pounds; and it is reckoned very unlucky to cut this or the cheese before the time. At the commencement of the, supper, the yule clog, a short block of wood, is laid on the fire, and the yule candle, a tall mould candle, is lighted and set on the table; the candles are often presented by the chandlers to their customers. It is reckoned unlucky to light these before the time, or to stir from the table during the supper; nor must the candle be snuffed. A game of cards is the usual desert, and it is unlucky to have an odd number at table. Sometimes a piece of the yule log is saved and put beneath the bed, to remain till next Christmas, then to be burnt with the new log. This is supposed, during the interval,to secure the house from fire. A piece of the candle is also kept to ensure good luck.
On Christmas morning before break of day all is in an uproar; numbers of boys sally forth, roaring out before every door "I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year," vociferated over and over again till the family are awakened, and admit the clamourous visiter, who if he be first, is taken into the house and liberally treated with money, cheese, and gingerbread. No person (boys excepted) are permitted to go out of doors, till the threshold has been consecrated by the entrance of a male. Females have no part in this matter; and should a damsel lovely as an angel enter first, her fair form would be viewed with horror, as the harbinger of death. 

This last actually sounds a lot like the First Footing I sa as a child in the Outer Hebrides, except the first person over the doorstep was supposed to be a dark-haired man carrying a lump of coal, whom you were required to give a drink. More about that another time.

Since my current Christmas story is not set in Whitby, only the Yule log will make its appearance, although….. at least one of my characters could be Yorkshire born and bred. Hmmm.

Until next time….