A Regency Christmas or Christmastide

What would Christmastide be like in Regency England? On the twenty-fourth of December you would go out into the countryside to gather fresh greenery to decorate your home; boughs of evergreens, rosemary, laurel, holly and mistletoe. It was bad luck to do this even one day earlier. You’d prepare a drink for the wassailers who would come singing to your door. This could be either warmed ale, wine or cider, depending which part of the country you lived in, with spices, honey and sometimes an egg added. On Christmas Eve you would light the Yule candle which then burned until dawn. On Christmas morning it was off to church. Christmas was primarily a religious festival, but a goose was roasting in the oven for your return and perhaps a boar’s head. The feast ended with a Christmas pudding.

Mincemeat tarts were made from leftovers of the Christmas feast. Eating one a day for the twelve days of Christmas was supposed to bring you happiness in the New Year. A yule log did not fit into most Regency homes but a roaring fire was expected. On Boxing Day you might go see a Christmas pantomime, but it was a day for charity. Servants and the poor could expect warm clothing, food and money which had been collected in alms boxes.

But Epiphany, or January the sixth, was actually celebrated more than Christmas. Twelfth Night cakes, covered with coloured sugar, contained a bean and a pea which decided who would be king and queen for the night. Servants were allowed to make merry and the mistletoe had one white berry plucked for every kiss taken. When the berries were gone, the mistletoe lost its charm. The Christmas tree didn’t make its appearance until 1840 when Queen Victoria’s husband, the German Prince Albert, introduced it.

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