Have Yourself a Merry Austen Christmas

Have Yourself a Merry Austen Christmas

Jane Austen celebrated Christmas, but much of what I say in this post could apply to other faith traditions, so if that applies to you, please interpret through the lens that suits you. 2020 has, by all accounts, been a strange year on a global scale. Here we are at the end of it, in the midst of what would, in a normal year, see plenty of parties: friends and family get-togethers, work parties, church parties, charity dinners, etc. For many, these social events are what you love about the holiday season, Christmas 2020 might be easy to write off as a dud. But it doesn’t have to be. In considering how to observe the holiday this year, I came up with a few tenets of Christmas we could borrow from the era Jane lived a good portion of her life in, and from Jane herself.

Incorporate both religious and secular traditions. Christmas was a national holiday in England during the Regency, and since it’s origins were founded in Christian beliefs, Christmas morning church services were traditionally observed, with a special Christmas sermon, but the rest of the day was reserved for festivities. In my own family tradition, we spend Christmas Eve focused on the sacred, reading the scriptural accounts of the events around Christ’s birth, and singing Christmas songs. Christmas day itself is more relaxed and festive, unless it falls on a Sunday, in which case we do go to church in the morning.  The reminder not to forget “the reason for the season” has enriched my lifelong observance of this day.

As we discover in Emma, when she didn’t want to face Mr. Elton after his Christmas Eve carriage-ride debacle, ill health or inclement weather were considered acceptable excuses not to attend Church services.

“The weather was most favourable for her; though Christmas-day, she could not go to church. Mr. Woodhouse would have been miserable had his daughter attempted it, and she was therefore safe from either exciting or receiving unpleasant and most unsuitable ideas.”

Keep it simple. Christmas in Georgian England, particularly during the Regency period, was not the overblown celebration we have today, although the Christmas season ran from December 6 to January 6. This season was full of parties, balls, and family get-togethers both leading up to and in the aftermath of Christmas Day. Evergreen boughs, holly, and mistletoe weren’t even brought into the home to decorate until Christmas Eve, however. I’m not suggesting that you change your celebration or take down your decorations, I’m just saying that if budgetary concerns are a factor due to the lean year, a simple Christmas can be just as joyous as celebrating on a larger scale.

Observe the feast. The central event of Christmas Day, after church services, was the Christmas dinner. Feasting is a tradition commemorating abundance. The Christmas feast is no different, celebrating the spiritual abundance given to mankind by the birth of the Savior. Provided that the means existed to do so, the quantity of food cooked exceeded the amount that would be consumed, with the leftovers providing the ingredients for (hopefully) twelve mince pies. Eating a mince pie each day from Christmas through Twelfth night was considered to bring good luck for each of the twelve ensuing months. I’m not suggesting that you turn all your leftovers into pie, but to see the leftovers as a gift of abundance. On Epiphany, another feast day occurred, commemorating the visit of the Magi to the Christ child.

Christmas Pie. William Henry Hunt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Give handmade gifts. Purchased gifts were certainly given, such as the chain for a cross pendant that Edmund Bertram and Mary Crawford each gave to Fanny Price, but a thoughtful, handmade gift was considered as much, if not more, meaningful. An embroidered handkerchief, hand-carved toy, personalized poem, or watercolor painting are examples of handmade gifts. Personalized gifts, such as jewelry containing a lock of hair, or a miniature portrait were also given. Georgians often exchanged gifts on December 6, Saint Nicholas Day, the first day of the Christmas season, rather than on Christmas Day as is the modern tradition.

William Price gives Fanny a cross pendant.

When you party, party. I’m a little envious of the Georgians and their parties. Images and accounts tell me that they had tons of fun, even if their numbers were small. Play games*, sing, dance, revel a bit. Laugh and share your talents. Light a Christmas fire in your fireplace, or if you don’t have a fireplace, do what I do and simulate one on the TV.  Eat those special treats, and enjoy the company.

Give to charity. One tradition that has survived the intervening centuries is the spirit of goodwill that inspires generosity to one’s fellow men. If you have the means, impart some of it to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or keep Chawton House going.

Keep the celebration going into January. Christmas happens during the darkest months of the year. I for one intend to incorporate the post-Christmas spirit for at least twelve days, and perhaps beyond.

Did any of these ideas speak to you? Are there other Georgian or Regency Christmas traditions that you’ve tried or want to try?  We at Austen Authors would love to hear from you, including those of our readers from other faith traditions that celebrate in different ways. Your comments are welcome!

*The games at this link are cited as coming from Victorian times, but many are of older origin. The point is to play, not when the games were invented.

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December 23, 2020 2:22 PM

Great suggestions, thanks for sharing.

December 20, 2020 11:17 AM

Dear Austen Authors,

Many thanks for the lovely Christmas card I received recently. As I do not celebrate this holiday except to a limited extent with my husband’s celebration, I often forget to send out greeting cards. Please forgive me, and to all of you who do celebrate this holiday please have a joyous Christmas and a very happy, healthy, and successful (however you define success) 2021. Looking forward to another year of enjoyable entertainment from Austen Authors both individually and via the AuAu website.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
December 15, 2020 10:48 AM

Nice post! I love Christmas! We started a couple of years ago getting what we call poppers,a British tradition I believe. You pull them apart and there is a hat and things inside. We saw them on the Britcoms we watch and thought it would be fun. The kids(who are grown ) really loved them so now we do it every year and we aren’t even british!lol

December 15, 2020 12:23 AM

Thank you for sharing this. In our place before we will have a Christmas party. I remmeber those times when we play games for all ages. That was fun. Since we are “secluding” ourselves this year, we’ll keep it simple.Our tradition, open gifts on Christmas day (upon waking or after breakfast). We also take down christ,as decor after the 6th of Jan.

Also would like to (with my family ) sharing our blessings/volunteering hopefully a lot of times next year.

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
December 14, 2020 6:53 PM

My mom made candy. She made enough to give to everyone. She and dad would work together… he stirred it for her and she had a knack that made the best candy EVER. I know that for fact because everyone said so. She would make a huge tray for me to take to the employee workroom and everyone loved it. She would get creative and make the most unusual variations. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. No one could top her candy making. Oh me. After mom passed, and now dad too, every once in a while someone will say… ‘I sure miss your mom’s candy.’ Yeah, me too.

Teresa Broderick
Teresa Broderick
December 14, 2020 3:18 PM

Lovely post. It brought back memories. When I was growing up my Mam loved Christmas. She would start in October making cakes and plum pudding. We would have a feast on Christmas Day! Christmas night is was games and more food. We had wonderful days.
With my own family do we do a lot of the same. We don’t have pudding anymore as no one really eats it. The last one we had my husband and eldest daughter were determined to light it. Everything round it was on fire at some stage but the pudding refused to ignite 🙂
I wish you all a happy family Christmas Day. We need to enjoy it after the year we’ve all had.

Riana Everly
December 14, 2020 12:53 PM

We don’t celebrate Christmas, but the lessons are good ones. Do what you need to do to make the season meaningful, in whatever way works best.
There is one ancient tradition from my childhood that we have started doing again, and that’s making a plum pudding. My husband mixed it up and steamed it a few days ago, and sometime towards the end of the month – maybe New Year’s Day – we’ll heat it up and douse it in brandy and set it alight before devouring it.

Mirta Ines Trupp
December 14, 2020 7:56 AM

Delightful and enlightening. Merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Amanda Kai
December 14, 2020 8:28 AM

Thank you! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you also, Mirta!

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