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Archive for the ‘Regency Christmas Traditions’ Category

by Brenda S. Cox

“This is quite the season indeed for friendly meetings. At Christmas every body invites their friends about them, and people think little of even the worst weather.”–Mr. Elton, Emma

I hope you are all enjoying the holidays. In Austen’s novels, Christmas is a time for parties and for family and friend to gather, just like today. It was also a day for attending church (see Emma ch. 16 and Mansfield Park ch. 23), after weeks of Advent when prayers focused on the coming of Christ. For more on the prayers and readings that Austen would have prayed and read for Advent and Christmas, see my post Advent with Jane Austen. You can also find many posts at this site (and others) on Christmas customs in Jane Austen’s England.

I recently gave a presentation on “Satirical Cartoons and Jane Austen’s Church of England” at JASNA’s Annual General Meeting (you can read it in this month’s Persuasions On-Line, or, if you are a JASNA member, you can watch it in the AGM on Demand).  Today I’d like to share a few cartoons about Christmas in Austen’s England. (I didn’t find many; perhaps Christmas was not a popular subject for caricatures.)

Triumphal Procession

Let’s start with this wild one.

The Triumphal Procession of Merry Christmas to Hospitality Hall, Richard Newton, 1794.
© Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

In an earlier post about the Clerical Alphabet cartoon, I wrote about Richard Newton, a prolific young artist of the time. Newton drew the above cartoon in 1794, satirizing the general gluttony and drunkenness associated with Christmas. In The Triumphal Procession of Merry Christmas to Hospitality Hall, men on a carriage feast on large pieces of meat while behind them a naked man sits on a barrel, probably of wine or another alcoholic beverage.

Academics at Christmas

Christmas Academicks, Playing a Rubber of Whist, Thomas Rowlandson, 1803.
Public domain via the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

University professors have a much more restrained celebration, though still not a devout one. Thomas Rowlandson’s The Christmas Academicks Playing a Rubber of Whist (1803) shows four academics playing cards, while a fifth stands nearby and a servant brings drinks. All are clergymen, probably fellows (professors or tutors) at the University of Oxford or Cambridge, who would be single clergymen. (Jane Austen’s father was a fellow at Oxford until he married.) As in many satirical cartoons of the time, the clergymen are pictured as overweight and self-indulgent. They are gambling and drinking, not in church. 

Farmer Giles’s Establishment, Christmas day, 1800, by William Heath, 1830
Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

Farmer Giles: Christmas Through the Years

Some years later, in 1830, William Heath drew a series on Christmas as a political satire. It begins with a delightful version of an 1800 country Christmas, such as the Musgroves or Westons might have enjoyed in Austen’s novels.

Farmer Giles was a symbol of the unsophisticated country farmer. Here he feasts with his joyful family at Christmastime. As we see in Austen’s novels, Christmas was a time for parties and feasts. Greenery decorates the fireplace and the wife is slicing plum pudding. Farmer Giles is apparently prosperous and he becomes more so.

Farmer Giles’s Establishment Christmas 1816 by by William Heath, 1830
Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

By 1816, the farmer has done well and moved up into fashionable society. This Christmas he and his wife are playing cards (gambling) while guests dance in the ballroom. However, they look much less happy than in the first print. The children are grown now, and looking on. The farmer’s hand appears to be bandaged for the gout, from overeating and excessive drinking.

Farmer Giles’s Establishment!!! Christmas 1829 by by William Heath, 1830
Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

Their financial prosperity doesn’t last, though. The agricultural economy crashed.

In the third plate, Farmer Giles’ Establishment!!! Christmas 1829, the farmer is in a debtors’ cell. He holds a paper saying his children have been sent to the work house. His wife is doing laundry in a tub.

So this series becomes political satire, criticizing the government for its policies which led to an agricultural depression. A very sad Christmas.

The Merry Musgroves

But let’s return to Austen’s happier times. 

The Musgroves and children at Christmas
C.E. Brock, Persuasion, Volume 2, chapter 2

As Austen describes Christmas at the Musgroves, in Persuasion:

On one side was a table, occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels 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 all the noise of the others. . . .

Anne, judging from her own temperament, would have deemed such a domestic hurricane a bad restorative of the nerves, which Louisa’s illness must have so greatly shaken; but Mrs. Musgrove, . . . concluded a short recapitulation of what she had suffered herself, by observing, with a happy glance round the room, that after all she had gone through, nothing was so likely to do her good as a little quiet cheerfulness at home. . .

“I hope I shall remember, in future,” said Lady Russell, as soon as they were reseated in the carriage, “not to call at Uppercross in the Christmas holidays.”

Every body has their taste in noises as well as in other matters . . .

I hope this Christmas is just to your taste! Many blessings to you in the New Year.

Brenda S. Cox writes on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. She is currently working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Faith in Jane Austen’s England.

 

For more on satirical cartoons in Jane Austen’s England, see:

Satirical Cartoons and Jane Austen’s Church of England

The Stereotype of the Self-Indulgent Clergyman: Rowlandson’s Parsonage 

The Clerical Alphabet: Problems in Austen’s Church of England 

Keeping Within Compass  Mike Rendell also shows and discusses many other fascinating cartoons from Austen’s era on this blog, but be aware that many are risque. I am indebted to Mike for posting on the Newton Clerical Alphabet cartoon that got me started looking at cartoons and the clergy.
 

For more on Christmas in Austen’s England, see:

Party Like the Musgroves, by Rachel Dodge, to have your own party like the Musgroves did in the passage above!

Christmas Georgian Style 

Archive for Regency Christmas Traditions (various posts on this site)

Christmas Traditions (various posts from various sites)

More Regency Christmas Traditions (and scenes and stories, various posts from Maria Grace’s site) 

Joy to the World: Psalms, Hymns, and Christmas Carols in Austen’s England

Regency Christmas Carols

Handel’s Messiah in Jane Austen’s England 

Advent with Jane Austen: Now, and Not Yet 

Georgian Christmas Pie Recipes

Regency Christmas Songs and Games

A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions, book by Maria Grace

Christmas in Jane Austen’s Time

Jane Austen’s Christmas

. . . and much more!

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I love the idea of a Regency-style Christmas season, complete with gifts, foods, and traditions that Jane Austen and her heroines might have enjoyed. Though Christmas traditions were different during Jane Austen’s time than they are today, as I share in my article about Regency Christmas Traditions, it’s fun to think of creative ideas that can make for a truly Austen-tatious holiday season.

In Persuasion, Austen paints a Christmas scene. It’s one of my favorite festive scenes, and I love to think of ways to recreate it:

On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels 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 all the noise of the others. […] Charles and Mary also came in, of course, during their visit, and Mr Musgrove made a point of paying his respects to Lady Russell, and sat down close to her for ten minutes, talking with a very raised voice, but from the clamour of the children on his knees, generally in vain. It was a fine family-piece.

Persuasion, Jane Austen

Evergreen Decor:

Create your own holiday decorations the way people did during Jane Austen’s time. Trim your windows and home with holly branches and evergreen trimmings.

On Christmas Eve the children laid out the traditional holly branches on the window ledges…

Jane Austen: A Life, Claire Tomalin, p. 4.

For Regency-inspired holiday decorating ideas, check out this Jane Austen’s World article on Regency Era Christmas Evergreen Decorations.

Craft Table with Silver & Gold Paper:

Create a craft station for children and adults to make ornaments or other crafts like these: Christmas Crafts for Kids and Adults from Abbi Kirsten.

On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper…

Persuasion, Jane Austen

Tressels and Trays:

…on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies…

Persuasion, Jane Austen
A pot of simmering wassail, infused with citrus fruit slices and cinnamon sticks. (Wikipedia Commons)

Riotous Games:

…riotous boys were holding high revel…

Persuasion, Jane Austen

A Roaring Fire:

…the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard, in spite of all the noise of the others.

Persuasion, Jane Austen

Jane-Inspired Gifts to Buy

This holiday season, add a little “Jane” to your gift giving! Here are a few shops and lists to peruse:

Austenesque Homemade Gifts

Want to make your own gifts? Check out these creative ideas!

Charitable Giving

Finally, charitable gift giving was a large part of the Regency Christmas season. On the day after Christmas, on St. Stephen’s Day (now called Boxing Day), people gave gifts to charities and to those in need.

The gentry gave gifts to the servants who worked in their homes and those hired to help on their land. Read The History of Boxing Day And How To Celebrate It (Lindsay Schlegel – Verity.com) for some modern-day ideas for ways to celebrate Boxing Day.


Now it’s your turn! What do you like to do around the holidays to make your gifts and get-togethers special? Do you have any Jane Austen traditions this time of year? I enjoy attending one of the local Jane Austen Birthday Teas in my area at this time of year. At home, I love to decorate the house with greenery and bake family recipes! -Rachel

RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is the bestselling author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her newest book The Little Women Devotional is coming this January! You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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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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Inquiring readers, I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was fourteen years old. The novel was a Christmas gift from my parents. One of the first Christmas songs this Dutch girl learned in English was “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” a song that was popularized in an arrangement by Frederic Austin in 1909. We all know the tune, but do we know the words as Jane Austen wrote them? After singing the song, please stay to answer a few questions.–Enjoy & Merry Christmas! Vic

Image of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, 1995[Verse 1]

On the first day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
A HERO named Mister Darcy

[Verse 2]

Image of Lizzy and Jane Bennet from Jennifer Ehle BlogspotOn the second day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy

[Verse 3]

Pride_and_Prejudice_CH_19-collins proposalOn the third day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy

[Verse 4]

Hugh Thomson illustration of Mr. Bingley entering the Meryton Assembly Ball with his guestsOn the fourth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy

[Verse 5]

Hugh Thomson image of the five Bennet girlsOn the fifth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
FIVE S.I.N.G.L.E GIRLS!

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 6]

Image of Mary Crawford playing harp-C.E.BrockOn the sixth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Six accomplished women
FIVE S.I.N.G.L.E GIRLS!

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 7]

On the seventh day of ChristImage of the Colinses visiting Lady Catherine de Bourg, 1995 Pride and Prejudice filmmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Seven days at Hunsford
Six accomplished women
FIVE S.I.N.G.L.E GIRLS!

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 8]

Image of Adrian Lucas as Mr. Bingley, 1995 P&POn the eighth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Eight charms of Wickham
Seven days at Hunsford
Six accomplished women
FIVE S.I.N.G.L.E GIRLS!

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 9]

On the ninth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to meQuadrille_RegencyW
Nine ladies dancing
Eight charms of Wickham
Seven days at Hunsford
Six accomplished women
FIVE S.I.N.G.L.E GIRLS!

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 10]

Image of Lydia and Mr. Wickham eloping-she happy, he bored, P&P 1995On the tenth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Lydia eloping
Nine ladies dancing
Eight charms of Wickham
Seven days at Hunsford
Six accomplished women
FIVE S.I.N.G.L.E GIRLS!

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 11]

Image of Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet falling for Mr. Darcy at Pemberley, 1995 film of Pride and PrejudiceOn the eleventh day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
Lizzy’s eyes a’ opening
Lydia eloping
Nine ladies dancing
Eight charms of Wickham
Seven days at Hunsford
Six accomplished women
FIVE S.I.N.G.L.E GIRLS!

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

[Verse 12]

LadyCatherine_&_ElisabethOn the twelfth day of Christmas, Jane Austen sent to me
L C’s condescensions
Lizzy’s eyes a’ opening
Lydia eloping
Nine ladies dancing
Eight charms of Wickham
Seven days at Hunsford
Six accomplished women
FIVE S.I.N.G.L.E GIRLS!

Four Bingley dances,
Three various suitors,
Two wise Bennet girls, and
A HERO named Mister Darcy!

________________

Now, Gentle Readers, I shall pose a few questions. How do you respond to Pride and Prejudice? How are you disposed towards a few characters? (Your opinions are most welcome.) As you can see, I favor the 1995 Firth/Ehle film version of P&P! So, don’t be shy in sharing your thoughts.

  1. L C’s condescension:  In your estimation, what is the most memorable Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s condescending statement?
  2. Lizzy’s eyes a’ opening: What events changed Elizabeth’s attitude towards Mr. Darcy? Which one stands out in your mind?
  3. Lydia eloping: How old was Lydia when she ran off with Mr. Wickham? What, in her naivete, did she hope her life would have been like with him, away from her family?
  4. Nine ladies dancing: Think of the ladies Austen mentioned in Pride and Prejudice. Which women would have most likely danced at the Netherfield Ball?
  5. Eight charms of Wickham: Can you name Mr. Wickham’s charms, be they true or false, as Austen described them?
  6. Seven days at Hunsford: How did Lizzy spend her days at Hunsford? What memorable scenes occurred during this time?
  7. Six accomplished women: Who first mentioned six accomplished women? How did the conversation come up and where?
  8. Please name all the five single girls and their primary characteristic (in your opinion).
  9. Four Bingley dances: This phrase refers to an event at the beginning of the novel.
  10. Three various suitors: Name all the suitors you can think of in the novel. Who had three? Who are they?
  11. Two wise Bennet girls: Who are they? How would you personally describe them?
  12. A HERO named Mister Darcy! Why are we so mesmerized by Austen’s most memorable hero? What are the characteristics that make him stand out to you?

After this C.E. Brock composite image of Pride and Prejudice, I’ve added my own observations to a few of the questions. Thank you for participating. May you have a lovely holiday season. Please love and take care of each other in your family, your neighbors, and your community.

1024px-Scenes_from_Pride_and_Prejudice

(more…)

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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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