Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas in a Nutshell

Before we get started... Remember that invitation to the Regency Tea and Dance party I posted about a few weeks ago? Well, you must check out QNPoohBear's blog--she went, and took lots of pictures! It sounds wonderful...and there are rumors of a spring dance floating about as well. Thanks for the link, QNPoohBear!

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Regina and I have been teaching a course on Regency and Early Victorian Christmas customs for the Beau Monde Chapter of the Romance Writers of America, and turning up all sorts of interesting information in the process. Did you know that Christmas as we know it is very much a 19th century invention, courtesy of Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens?

I've mentioned several times how very popular the Queen was when she came to the throne, in a media personality way that really had never happened before. Everyone wanted to know what the queen did, what her favorite perfume was, what kind of biscuits she liked with tea, and so on ad infinitum. When Victoria married her beloved Albert, that attention didn't go away...and when the public learned that Victoria and Albert enjoyed celebrating Christmas in the German way, with things like trees decorated with candles and sweets and lovely ornaments and music and lots of gifts for their children, they thought, "Hmmm...."

At about the same time, Charles Dickens published a short novella he hoped would revive his career which had blossomed with Sketches by Boz and The Pickwick Papers, then tanked with Martin Chuzzlewit. The novella was called "A Christmas Carol", and the first edition of 6000 copies sold out within days. Readers were touched by poverty-stricken Cratchit family and moved by Ebenezer Scrooge's holiday change-of-heart...and the combination of Victoria and Albert and Tiny Tim were enough to send the country Christmas-mad, aided and abetted by such things as increased access to inexpensive manufactured good courtesy of the Industrial Revolution (think TOYS) and improved transportation so that far-flung family members could reunite for the holiday. The Christmas card and Christmas crackers date from this period, and the next twenty years saw the renaissance of the Christmas carol, with most on the ones we sing today dating from the 1850s through 1870s.

Speaking of's a late 19th century Christmas game that I thought was charming...enjoy!

Surprise Nuts Centerpiece
Split some large, well-shaped English walnuts. Remove the meats and in their place put some small toys or trinkets. Glue them back together and then glue an 18” length of colored ribbon to one end of each walnut. Heap them in a bowl with other nuts, ribbons hanging over the side of the bowl; each of your guests can choose one ribbon to pull and claim their prize. Don’t forget to have nutcrackers on hand!

Have fun!


QNPoohBear said...

Thanks for linking to my slideshow! The tea dance was educational and entertaining. Dancing is a lot harder than it looks in all those Jane Austen movies! And tying in to Christmas, there's also great period dancing in the new Disney animated version of A Christmas Carol.

I recently attended a holiday celebration at our state historical society and a historian lectured on the history of Christmas in America through the mid 19th century. She did a lot of research in the book The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum. It sounds interesting and when I'm done with finals, I'll see if I can read it. I enjoyed reading about the British traditions in the same time period.

ChaChaneen said...

Oh how fun it all is! And the nuts with ribbons sounds REALLY fun for something different with holiday parties! Lurve it! Hope your having a great day!