Five Tips for a Lovely Regency Christmas

Holiday celebrations have changed significantly over the past 200 years, but our Regency ancestors knew how to have a fine time at Yuletide. The custom of putting up a Christmas tree (or hanging one from the ceiling) had yet to catch on. Rum had already been invented, however, and this more than compensated for the lack of Christmas trees. Santa Claus was Father Christmas, and he wore flattering full-length green robes rather than that silly red get-up. No flying livestock, either. No Grinch, not even a Tiny Tim.
However did they manage days of yore? (Other than the rum?) It took planning, diligence, and a big bowl of wassail, but manage they did, as follows:

1) They hung mistletoe EVERYWHERE. Mistletoe was suspended from the rafters, from bonnets, from hat brims, and from awnings. We know this because every historical romance author who ever wrote a Christmas story tells us so (including present company).

 

 

 

2) About that wassail. Recipes lovingly preserved through the ages inform us that wassail was concocted of hard cider, nutmeg, ginger, flirtation (some recipes call for a lot of this), mischief, cinnamon, and laughter. Once the wassail had been properly appreciated, the next joy to be experienced during the Regency holiday was…

 

 

 

3) Sleighriding. Thanks to an obliging volcano, some of the Regency winters were truly impressive. Much glee was to be derived hitching up Olde Thunderbolte to the sleigh and taking off across the arctic countryside at a brisk canter. Windchill factors hadn’t been invented yet (fortunately), but no matter. Enterprising Regency folk coped with the pleasure of a winter headwind by snuggling VERY closely under those lap robes. As a consequence, most children in the rural parishes of Regency England were born in September. (I am making that up, though three of my four brothers were born in September, and my mom’s birthday was December 30. Go fig.) If sleighriding paled, there was always the…

4) Frost Fair on the Thames! The Victorians dredged and narrowed the Thames river channel, an inspired gesture in the direction of flushing the figurative London potty. The downside (well) of their engineering genius is that the river, having a faster current, hasn’t frozen solid since the Regency. No more Frost Fairs for us, though we do have the food hall at Harrod’s. I still think ice skating from booth to booth would have been a cool way to Christmas shop. And finally…

5) Mustn’t forget the plum pudding. No plums, of course, but that sucker was probably 180 proof by the time Mama brought it flaming to the table. One serving of plum pudding and even after a day of sleighriding or shopping the frost fair, your toes would thaw instantly.

All of which is to say, that with enough love and laughter, no matter the century, the holidays are still the holidays—but I do think we could use a little more respect for the traditional use of mistletoe!

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