December 24th: Christmas Eve
On Christmas Eve, the decorations and greenery were put up throughout the house. Bringing in greenery prior to Christmas eve was considered bad luck. Traditional greenery included holly, ivy, rosemary, evergreen, hawthorn and, bay leaf, laurel, and hellebore (Christmas rose).
Some households fashioned kissing boughs from evergreens and mistletoe, adding apples and pretty ribbon bows for decoration. The greenery remained in place until Epiphany when they were removed and burned lest they bring bad luck to the house.
The Yule log was lit on Christmas Eve, with splinters saved from the log from the previous year. The fire was to last until the end of Christmas Day at least and was kept smoldering until Twelfth Night.
The Yule Log was believed to bring prosperity and protection from evil. Families kept a remnant of the log all the year long so protection would remain across the seasons. Even the ashes were believed to hold power. They would be scattered over fields to promote fertility.
Christmas or Yule Candle
At the end of the 18th century, it became the custom for chandlers and other merchants to present regular customers with the gift of a large candle at Christmas.
This Yule candle would be lit at sunset on Christmas Eve and burn until Christmas service (or dawn) the next day. Christmas Eve supper was served in the light of the Yule Candle which was thought to convey special blessings to anyone touched by it. Holiday breads were stacked around it, so they would be kept fresh by its light. Precious possessions might also be place within its glow so that they might be protected from harm.
December 25th: Christmas day
Christmas Day typically began with a trip to church. Though gifts were not typically exchanged on this day, small gifts might be given to children. Cottagers would sometimes give generous landowners a symbolic gift for Christmas Day as well.
Christmas was a time for charity. Landowners were expected to entertain their tenants and neighbors and show generosity. Many held an open house of sorts for their neighbors in need. Many poorer members of the community relied on this generosity for their own holiday celebration.
Christmas Dinner was a feast to be anticipated. It often began with a toast that included the servants who received their Christmas gifts at that time. Boar’s head, roasted or brawn—a kind of potted meat dish—often took center stage. Roast goose, which might have to be cooked by a baker with a large oven and picked up on the way home from church, was another Christmas dinner favorite.
Most also considered mince meat pies, also known as Christmas or Twelfth Night pies, staples for a Christmas feast. The pies contained chopped meat, dried fruit, spices and sugar. Leftovers from the Christmas feast would be used to make pies for the twelve days until Epiphany. Eating minced pie every day of the twelve days of Christmas was said to bring twelve months of happiness in the new year.
At the end of the meal, the Christmas puddings made a month earlier would make their appearance. When the pudding was served, a sprig of holly was placed on the top of the pudding as a reminder of Jesus' Crown of Thorns that he wore when he was killed. The pudding would be doused with brandy and set aflame, a key theatrical aspect of the holiday celebration.
Giving ‘Christmas Boxes’ to charity and servants was the custom on St Stephen’s Day, now called Boxing Day. The well-off were expected to be particularly generous. Old clothing and extra items were boxed up and handed out to servants and tradesmen who visited that day. Servants were often given the day off. Churches collected money in alms-boxes during the season and distributed it to the needed after Christmas. Boxing Day was also a traditional day for fox hunting. Rather than marking the end of the holiday season as we might consider it, Boxing Day started the festivities that would culminate on Twelfth Night.
A Regency Christmas. Kieran Hazzard. 2013 2nd Bn. 95th Rifles
A Regency Primer on Christmastide & New Year’s. Kristen Koster. 2011.
Chamber, Robert. Book of Days (1862)
Christmas Gift Giving. Johanna Waugh. 2008.
Christmas in the Regency. Jo Beverley.
Christmas, Regency Style. Regina Scott.
Christmas Traditions in Regency England. Regan Walker
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