A Regency Christmas
Jane Austen has several references to Christmas celebrations. Here is a quote from 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."
The holiday season began on December 21st and ran until 12th night, January 6th :
(Imagine having to spend so long with your families and friends nowadays. I'm sure only in the wealthier households would Christmas celebrated so thoroughly.)
December 21st is the winter solstice: on this day in the Regency a Yule log was brought in and then burned throughout the holiday. Servants would deck the Halls with boughs of holly (where have I heard that before?) and other greenery; some households considered it unlucky to have any greenery in the house before Christmas Eve. There was of course no Christmas tree as they didn't become fashionable until the 1850s.
Friends and family would meet at the appointed house and settled in to enjoy themselves. Possibly guess would be invited to dinner and there might be dancing in games afterwards.
Everyone would have attended church in the morning and put a little extra in the poor box for the next day. Later the Regency well they would enjoy a turkey dinner (Christmas goose was a later tradition). Families tended to stay together on Christmas Day there would not been a large party after dinner.
(Imagine a Christmas Day with no television or Queen’s speech!)
Boxes (this is where the name comes from) of food and clothing were given out the tenants and it was also a tradition to give the servants a holiday bonus content of the church. Box would be distributed to the needy. There might be a foxhunt from somewhere in the neighbourhood.
December 27th to 30th :
there would have been parted and gatherings at home or nearby houses every night. Gentlemen would dance all night and then get up early to enjoy sporting activities but the ladies can have their beauty sleep and then spend the afternoon touring the countryside in an open carriage.
New Year's Eve:
A Regency family would see in the New Year at midnight with drink and song. The racier couples might find themselves embracing under the mistletoe.
January 2nd - 5th:
yet more social gatherings and family activities. If it was cold enough there might be sledging ice skating during the day and balls and parties in the evening.
January 6th , Twelfth night:
this was the traditional day exchanging gifts, gifts could be given at any time throughout the holiday season not even over several days there might be a large ball somewhere in the neighbourhood twitched the children of the house would be invited along with the grown-ups.
January 7th :
The decorations would be taken down (it is still considered unlucky to leave them up any longer) and your guests and family will return to their own home.