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IDress in the Age of Jane Austennquiring readers, Today is one of celebration for those of us who honor Christ’s birth. This is a year of challenge for so many in our communities whose jobs and families have been affected by COVID-19. Inspired by the Georgians in times past, I do what I can in my community and for those in need. Austen describes this community/family/friend caring so well in her novels, a theme that Rachel Dodge covered in a recent post , and Brenda Cox in a post entitled “Thankfulness in Jane Austen’s Novels.”

Charity and the sharing of bounty with the less fortunate was an appropriately pious response to the season.” — Hilary Davidson

One book I purchased this year was written by Hilary Davidson entitled Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion. Yale Books offers a blog post with information from this book entitled “A Jane Austen Christmas.” Enjoy!

Image of Wool cape, last third of the eighteenth century, The Met Museum, New York. Purchase, Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 1969.

Wool cape, Met Museum 

The team of Jane Austen’s World blog: Vic Sanborn, Tony Grant, Rachel Dodge, and Brenda Cox.

Other Christmas posts on this blog: Click here to view many choices!

 

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I wish you a cheerful and at times even a Merry Christmas.” — Jane Austen

While Christmas festivities were not as commercial as they were during Queen Victoria’s and our time, families in Jane Austen’s era celebrated the holiday with much merriment, many gatherings and parties, and some gift giving. Houses were decorated with evergreens and kissing boughs made of holly, ivy, and mistletoe, although these greens were not brought in until Christmas Eve. On the same night, a large yule log was ceremoniously brought into the house, with the hope that it would last for the rest of the holiday season.

Celebrations lasted from December 6th, St. Nicholas Day, when presents were given, to January 6th , Twelfth Night. On December 25th people attended church service, then ate Christmas dinner. December 26th was known as Boxing Day, when staff and servants were given Christmas boxes and that day off by their benefactors.

The season ended the night of January 5th , the last day of Christmastide, with a Twelfth Night party filled with games and more partying. The revelers ate traditional foods, such as a slice of the elaborately decorated Twelfth Cake, that was topped with enough sugar, sugar figures, and sugar piping to cause a diabetic coma in a horse. (I might have exaggerated slightly.) After the revelers finished partying, superstition dictated that all decorations in the house be taken down and burned, else bad luck would befall the household for the year.

Certain foods marked the season.

Just at this time these shops are filled with large plum-cakes, which are crusted over with sugar, and ornamented in every possible way. These are for the festival of the kings, it being part of an Englishman’s religion to eat plum-cake on this day, and to have pies at Christmas made of meat and plums.” – p. 63, Mr. Rowlandson’s England, text written by English poet Robert Southey as a fictitious Spanish tourist visiting England.

Cartoon of Farmer Giles's Establishment: Christmas Day-1800.

Farmer Giles’s Establishment: Christmas Day-1800. Science Museum Group Collection

In “A Miscellany of Christmas Pies, Puddings and Cakes,” Joanne Major describes the typical foods that were served: Christmas pudding, which started out as plum porridge or pottage (and is also known as plum or figgy pudding); sweet and savory mince pies; Christmas cake; and a savory Yorkshire Christmas-Pie. She includes the following quote in her article:

Stamford Mercury, 15th January 1808

At Earl Grosvenor’s second dinner at Chester, as Mayor of that city, on Friday the 1st instant there was a large Christmas pie, which contained three geese, three turkies, seven hares, twelve partridges, a ham, and a leg of veal: the whole, when baked, weighed 154 lbs.!

The following description confirms Robert Southey’s observation that there was no food or protein an Englishman wouldn’t eat, including animals and seafood from all parts of the world—turtles from the West Indies, curry powder from India, hams from Portugal, reindeer’s tongues from Lapland, caviar from Russia; sausages, maccaroni, and oil from Italy, which also provided olives along with France and Spain; cheeses from Switzerland; fish from Scotland; mutton from Wales; and game from France, Norway, or Russia (p 60, Mr. Rowlandson’s England). In his observations, Southey remarked that an Englishman would hunt and shoot anything that could be stuck in a pot.

Gout, a prevalent disease of the well-to-do Georgian, was the painful result of an excessive and repeated ingestion of large quantities of protein and alcohol. The large gout-inducing Christmas pie described by Earl Grosvenor was most likely a version of the Yorkshire Christmas-Pie described by Hannah Glasse in her influential cookery book, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.

To Make a Yorkshire Christmas-Pie

“FIRST make a good standing crust, let the wall and bottom be very thick; bone a turkey, a goose, a fowl, a partridge, and a pigeon, Season them all very well, take half an ounce of mace, half an ounce of nutmegs, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, and half an ounce of black-pepper, all beat fine together, two large spoonfuls of salt, and then mix them together. Open the fowls all down the back, and bone them; first the pigeon, then the partridge; cover them; then the fowls then the goose, and then the turkey, which must be large; season them all well first, and lay them in the crust, so as it, will look only like a whole turkey; then have a hare ready cased, and wiped with a clean cloth. Cut it to pieces, that is, joint it; season it, and lay it as close as you can on one side; on the other side woodcocks, moor game, and what sort of wild-fowl you can get. Season them well, and lay them close; put at least four pounds of butter into the pie, then lay on your lid, which must be a very thick one, and let it be well baked. It must have a very hot oven, and will bake at least four hours. This crust will take a bushel of flour. In this chapter you will see how to make it. These pies are often sent to London in a box, as presents; therefore, the walls must be well built.”

A post entitled “Yorkshire Christmas Pye” in Epicurus describes how tough it was in 2014 to recreate an 18th Century pie. Back then, teams of cooks would work for days to accomplish the feat. According to the chef and author, not even modern appliances could compete with those bygone techniques. The modern pie, from assembly (8 ½ hrs), to baking (4 hrs), to its presentation at the table, took 12 ½ hours in total.

Screenshot of the Epicurus blog page

Screenshot of the Epicurus blog page. Photos of the exterior and interior of the Pye made by Ivan Day, whose scrumptuous recreation of Georgian recipes are works of art: Food History Jottings

The Master Chef modified Glasse’s recipe and used the boned meat of the following animals: turkey, goose, partridge, pheasant, woodcock, grouse, and hare. With the added lard in the crust and butter in the filling, I imagine the diner would probably have lacked the energy to push off from the table.

So, inquiring reader, if you are interested in recreating this English pye recipe for Christmas, I encourage you to start dieting on water and vegetables, and exercising on the hour every waking hour to make room for this artery clogging, but very tasty specialty!

“Thank you for the Christmas Cake” was written as a poem by Helen Maria Williams (Read by Tom O’Bedlam)

Patient readers: I apologize for the messy look of the resources list sitting below. The new WordPress “blocks” are wreaking havoc with my ability to publish material on this blog nicely. Obviously I have not learned this “improved” design adequately. I spend more hours fixing problems than writing the article. I assure you, neither Rachel nor Brenda are having this problem. I’ll get the hang of things soon…(I hope.) My comment is this: what was wrong with the old design and, why, if one chooses the classic mode do the blocks keep jumping to the new mode? I’m irked. This is irksome!

Resources:
  • Some Georgian Christmas Fare!,” December 16, 2011,
    Julie Day, Countryhousereader Blog.
    Great information on Christmas food served at an English
    country house.
    Includes information from
    Bills of Fare for Christmas feasting, 1805 and the suggested meal courses.
  • Christmas: Georgian Style! From Norfolk Tales, Myths & More! This rich source and fascinating blog provides detailed information on a Georgian Christmas in this post.
  • Twelfth Night Cake, British Food and History, January 5, 2019.
    Detailed account of recipes used on that final Christmastide night.
  • The Englishman’s Plum Pudding, History Today, Maggie Black, Volume 31, Issue 12, December 1981. Includes a history of the British Christmas pudding.
  • Mr. Rowlandson’s England, text from Robert Southey,
    Illustrations by Thomas Rowlandson.
    Southey, Robert,
    ISBN 10: 0907462774, Published by Antique Collectors Club Ltd, 1985.
    I loved this book so much (I read it online at the Internet Archive) that I ordered my own copy.
  • Letters from England, Volume 1 (of 3), by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella.
    This link provides the online text on Project Gutenberg of Robert Southey’s
    first volume, written as a Spanish traveler.

    https://www.gutenberg.org/files/61122/61122-h/61122-h.htm

Other Christmas posts on this blog:

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Jane Austen’s Christmas Day at Godmersham Park, her brother’s estate in the English countryside of Kent, was a merry one. As described by Claire Tomalin in Jane Austen: A Life , “Christmas was celebrated with carols, card games, blindman’s bluff, battledore, bullet pudding and dancing.”

Austen herself described the gaiety and revelry of Christmas in Persuasion, Chapter 14:

On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were trestles and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard in spite of the noise of the others.”

The games mentioned by Tomalin in her excellent biography of Austen included Hunt the Slipper, which, when played by children, would be fun and boisterous, and when played by adults at a country house gathering could have a naughty connotation, as in the 1802 image in the Hunt the Slipper: A Story, (Peabody Essex Museum).

Game directions for Hunt the Slipper

Hunt the Slipper game directions. (Hunt the Slipper, The American Folk Song Collection,  Kodaly Center, Holy Names University.

Image of Hunt the Slipper by Francesco Bartolozzi, 1787, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts (GMII): Image in the public domain. Wikimedia

Francesco Bartolozzi, 1787, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts (GMII): Image in the public domain. Wikimedia

Hunt the Slipper reminds me of musical chairs, only the slipper is passed secretly to the players until the song ends. This simple but fun song/game is still played today. You can view the “Hunt the Slipper” image by Kate Greenaway,  who lived in the last half of the 19th century, then read the 2008 description of the game in The Guardian at this link: click here. The rules over the centuries are remarkably similar.

In her book, Claire Tomalin mentioned a second song and game that the Austen family (and other families of the era) played called “Oranges and Lemons.” References to this traditional song and nursery rhyme appeared as early as the 17th century.

The first published record of Oranges and Lemons dates back to 1744 in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book, although it’s fair to assume it had been in circulation for some time before then. There is a reference to a square dance with the same name in a 1665 publication…– What is London’s Oranges and Lemons rhyme all about? by Benjamin Till, People Features, London, BBC Home, 13 November, 2014

Till discusses the many meanings of this song. In short, London’s churches, which are located in distinct districts within the city, are identified with certain trades.

References to “pancakes and fritters”, “kettles and pans” and “brick bats and tiles” tell us of bakers, coppersmiths and builders in areas around St Peter Upon Cornhill, St Anne’s and St Giles, Cripplegate respectively.” — Till, BBC Home

A version of the song can be heard on YouTube.

Many versions of this song exist, which makes one wonder which lyrics Jane Austen and her family sang. This is one version:

“Oranges and Lemons”

Two Sticks and Apple,
Ring ye Bells at Whitechapple,
Old Father Bald Pate,
Ring ye Bells Aldgate,
Maids in White Aprons,
Ring ye Bells a St. Catherines,
Oranges and Lemmons,
Ring ye bells at St. Clemens,
When will you pay me,
Ring ye Bells at ye Old Bailey,
When I am Rich,
Ring ye Bells at Fleetditch,
When will that be,
Ring ye Bells at Stepney,
When I am Old,
Ring ye Bells at Pauls

Here is another version, date unknown by me:

Gay go up and gay go down,
To ring the bells of London town.

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clements.

Bull’s eyes and targets,
Say the bells of St. Margret’s.

Brickbats and tiles,
Say the bells of St. Giles’.

Halfpence and farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

Pancakes and fritters,
Say the bells of St. Peter’s.

Two sticks and an apple,
Say the bells of Whitechapel.

Pokers and tongs,
Say the bells of St. John’s.

Kettles and pans,
Say the bells of St. Ann’s.

Old Father Baldpate,
Say the slow bells of Aldgate.

You owe me ten shillings,
Say the bells of St. Helen’s.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.

Pray when will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.

I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.

Chop chop chop chop
The last man’s dead!

This YouTube video of Oranges and Lemons from Gresham College performs the earliest known version of the song by Catherine King. The illustration of the dance for “Oranges and Lemons,” which is copyright free, is by Agnes Rose Bouvier (1842 – 1892).

One can imagine how much fun Aunts Jane and Cassandra must have had singing these popular songs while dancing and playing the games during the Christmas season with their nieces and nephews and the family in general.

As I end this post, Christmas day has nearly come to an end. I wish you all a happy holiday season and New Year’s celebration. May you all find joy, dear readers, in the gifts and love of your family, faith, and friends.

Sources:

Tomalin, Claire, 1999. Jane Austen: A Life. New York, Random House, First Vintage Books Edition.

What is London’s Oranges and Lemons rhyme all about? by Benjamin Till, People Features, London, BBC Home, 13 November, 2014

Other Christmas Posts on this Blog:

Click on this link for posts related to the topic

Games Regency People Play: Blind Man’s Bluff

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Detail of sprigs of ivy in window, Bowles and Carver print, London. Circa 1775

Sprigs of ivy in window panes and a bough of mistletoe overhead. Detail of a Bowles and Carver print, London. Circa 1775

On Christmas Eve the children laid out the traditional holly branches on the window ledges…” Jane Austen: A Life, Claire Tomalin, p. 4.

Christmas decorations during the Regency era were relatively simple compared to today’s standards, or even Victorian standards, when Christmas trees and wrapped packages made major appearances in common households.

Evergreen plants that bore fruit in the winter season, such as holly, mistletoe, rosemary, bay, laurel, box, yew, and fir have been popular British holiday decorations for centuries. Their meaning as symbols of everlasting life is derived from pagan days (Sciencing). It is uncertain when these evergreens began to be used as Christmas decorations, but carols mentioning the holly and ivy appeared before the 15th century. In addition to the holly and ivy, this early 17th century carol describes Christmas customs that are still popular.

[A Christmas Carol, by George Wither. From his “Juvenilia,” first printed in 1622.]

So, now is come our joyfulst feast;
Let every man be jolly;
Each room with ivy leaves is drest,
And every post with holly.
Though some churls at our mirth repine,
Round your foreheads garlands twine;
‘Drown sorrow in a cup of wine,
And let us all be merry.
Now, all our neighbours’ chimnies smoke,
And Christmas blocks are burning;
Their ovens they with bak’d meats choke,
And all their spits are turning.
Without the door let sorrow lye;
And if for cold it hap to die,
We’ll bury’t in a Christmas pie,
And ever more be merry.

 

In Susan Drury’s 1985 study of  “Customs and Beliefs Associated with Christmas Evergreens: A Preliminary Survey,” the tradition of putting up and taking down evergreen Christmas decorations varied across England. Observing the superstitions of a particular region (and the strict rules for their length of stay), decorations were put up on either Christmas Eve or on Christmas day.  Some regions dictated that decorations be taken down on Twelfth Night, or the 12th day of Christmas, while others recorded that they should remain up until Candlemas Eve on February 2, or the 40th day of Christmas. To make matters more complicated, the manner of disposing the evergreens differed according to local superstitions. “In Cornwall, as probably in Devon, evergreens would appear to have been hung on Christmas Eve… On Twelfth Day every piece of evergreen had to be removed, because it was believed that for every leaf left a ghost would be seen in the house in the ensuing year.”

 

We all know of Jane Austen’s years in Bath, Somerset. Drury mentions that in this region no holly or mistletoe “was to be hung up before Christmas eve,” which gives us an idea of when the Austen’s purchased evergreens (for they were now city dwellers) to festoon their house. Drury’s passage for Somerset is somewhat confusing in the disposal of evergreens, for she jumps from Somerset to South Somerset to the customs of local churches, which all differ. She writes that “The importance of Christmas evergreen decorations in England is shown by the strict rules regarding their length of stay and the care taken in disposing of them when they were removed from the walls, a process which varies between and often within each county.”

In closing, Robert Herrick describes the best time of the year for the disposal of a variety evergreens throughout the calendar year in this poem…

CEREMONIES FOR CANDLEMAS EVE

Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the misletoe;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box, for show.

The holly hitherto did sway;
Let box now domineer,
Until the dancing Easter-day,
Or Easter’s eve appear.

Then youthful box, which now hath grace
Your houses to renew,
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.

When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside,
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin,
To honour Whitsuntide.

Green rushes then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments,
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift; each thing his turn does hold;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.

Sources:

Tomalin, Claire, 1999. Jane Austen: A Life. New York, Random House, First Vintage Books Edition.

Specimens of Old Christmas Carols: Selected from Manuscripts and Printed Books, Volume 4, London: Printed for the Percy Society. By T. Richards, for the Executors of the late C. Richards, 100, St. Martin’s Lane. 1841.
 

Customs and Beliefs Associated with Christmas Evergreens: A Preliminary Survey, Susan Dury. Folklore, Vol. 98, No.2 (1987), pp. 194-199. Published by Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd. Accessed 09-12-2018 at https://ww.jstor.org/stable/1259980

“Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve,” Hesperides, or, The works both humane & divine of Robert Herrick, Esq.  London: Printed for John Williams and Francis Eglesfield, 1648.

Christmas in Prints, Michael Olmert, 2008, Colonial Williamsburg

Other Christmas Posts on this Blog:

Click on this link for posts related to the topic

Another Interesting Blog Post About Christmas

But Surely Christmas in England Didn’t Exist Until Dickens Invented It? Austenonly

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Faithful readers,

Fronticepiece of Christmas Carols by Thomas Wright, 1841Once again December has caught me flat footed. It is almost 10 days into the month and I am still researching interesting historical information about Christmas holiday celebrations as Jane Austen would have known them. While many books, articles, bloggers and internet sites cover this topic in detail, I hope to add a few interesting items that might not be widely known. I urge you to read Austenonly’s excellent article, “But Surely Christmas in England Didn’t Exist Until Dickens Invented It? “, which explains how and why this season was suppressed for years by the Puritans in the mid-17th century, when Charles I had been deposed and beheaded, and how our customs managed to survive and flourish.

As many of you know, Christmas celebrations as we know it in modern times (the decorative tree, a German custom, the elaborately wrapped presents, and the many traditional carols we still sing today) are rooted in Victorian times. So how did Jane Austen and her contemporaries celebrate this important Christian holiday? I hope to link to many articles of interest and provide a few insights of my own.

I learned with shock that many of my favorite carols, such as Silent Night and The First Noel, were written after Jane Austen’s death. I chose the following two 17th century carols (which Jane Austen might not have known, but which had been retrieved from obscurity in 1841 by Thomas Wright in Specimens of Old Christmas Carols ) because of the Boar’s Head motif, which has endured to this day. I love the old English spelling in these songs and yet their content speaks to the celebrations we still hold today.

A Carol bringyng in the bores heed.

Caput apm’ dgfero, Reddens laudes Domino.

[From a Collection of Christmas Carols, printed by Wynkyn de Worde, in 1521, from which book it is given by Hearne, in his notes to William of Newbery, iii. p. 17 5.]

The bores heed in hande bring I,

With garlands gay and rosemary;

I praye you all synge merely,

qui estis in convivio.

The bores heed, I understande,

Is the chefe servyce of this lande;

Loke where ever it be fande,

servite cum cantico.

Be gladde, lordes, bothe more and lasse,

For this hath ordeyned owr stewarde,

T o chere you all this Christmasse,

The bores heed with mustarde.

Bringing in the Boar's Head image, copyright free.

XIX. [The following modernised form of the foregoing carol, is given by Dr. Dibdin, as preserved and used up to a very recent period at Queen’s College, Oxford. Dibdin’s Ames, vol. ii. p. 252.]

THE boar’s head in hand bear I,

Bedeck’d with bays and rosemary;

And I pray you, my masters, be merry,

Quot estis in convivio.

Caput Apri defero,

Reddens laudes Domino.

The boar’s head, as I understand,

Is the rarest dish in all this land,

Which thus bedeck’d with a gay garland,

Let us servire cantico.

Caput Apri dlfero,

Reddens laudes Domino.

Our steward hath provided this

In honour of the king of bliss;

Which on this day to be served is

In Reginemn’ Atria.

Caput Apri defero,

Reddens laudcs Domino.

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