One thing I really enjoy about Regency romances is the research into the lives of people who lived in that era, which was the early 1800s. In only 200 years, our lifestyles and customs have changed so much, and it’s always been fascinating to me.
Regency Christmases are not well documented, since it was not as huge a celebration as it would be in the later 1800s during Queen Victoria’s reign, but the things I have been able to dig up all have a common theme. Christmas is all about large gatherings, usually with family, often including friends and neighbors.
Christmas these days also usually involves family, but Regency Christmases involved games and interactions more. There was no Christmas tree yet, and not as much a focus on presents as there is today.
Since there were no MP3 players, and not even vinyl records yet, music was a popular pastime. People often gathered around the pianoforte to sing songs together, although there were not many of our traditional Christmas carols in the early 1800s. The versions we know of Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and Silent Night were not composed or translated until the mid to late 1800s.
People also loved parlour games during Christmas, including charades, Blind Man’s Bluff, and Bullet Pudding, which Jane Austen’s niece wrote about in one of her letters to her aunt. Bullet Pudding was a bit like Jenga except with a pile of flour and a bullet placed on top—you had to cut at the flour mound without causing the bullet to fall. If you did, you had to get it out with your teeth.
Another famous game, Snapdragon, sounds like a living room fire waiting to happen, but also looks fun (in a rather recklessly wild way). Basically, raisins are placed in a bowl, doused with brandy, and set alight (in a darkened room for effect). Then people reach in and snatch out raisins and pop them into their mouths before burning their fingers. I read on the internet that brandy burns at a lower temperature than other alcohols, but don’t know if that’s true or not.
All these things encouraged people to interact with each other, to spend time with each other doing things, as opposed to playing with Christmas gifts they received or watching the football game on the couch.
Now, I have nothing against Christmas gifts. I love them. Give me more. But my Regency Christmas research has also made me appreciate the focus of those long-ago Christmas gatherings that encouraged us to spend more time with each other.
So I have a personal challenge for myself this Christmas, to spend more time interacting with my family and less time in front of the TV during our Christmas gatherings. I hope you will do the same!
I will try to get my sister-in-law to agree to Snapdragon but I am not hopeful. 🙂
My Christmas Regency romance, The Spinster’s Christmas, is available now!