Regency Christmas Traditions

A good amount of time separates us from the early 1800s. The people of that time celebrated Christmas differently than we do today, but there are some traditions we still share. The following passage is from Old Christmas by Washington Irving (of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow fame). It details the Christmas he spent in England in the early 1800s with a country squire and his family.

Perhaps the impending holiday might have given a more than usual animation to the country, for it seemed to me as if everybody was in good looks and good spirits. Game, poultry, and other luxuries of the table, were in brisk circulation in the villages; the grocers', butchers', and fruiterers' shops were thronged with customers. The housewives were stirring briskly about, putting their dwellings in order; and the glossy branches of holly, with their bright red berries, began to appear at the windows. 

As you can see from the above, people prepared for the holiday in the same way and with the same excitement as we do today. Further reading from Old Christmas reveals that people traveled to be with family and friends, and boys enjoyed a Christmas break from school. 

The Christmas Tree was a tradition that had not yet taken hold in the early 1800s, but it did exist. Queen Charlotte, who was born and raised in Germany, first introduced it at a children’s party in 1800. We know from Queen Victoria's diaries that she had Christmas trees in her room as a child, but it took Prince Albert’s influence in the 1840s, and the upper class’s desire to emulate the royal family, for the tradition to become mainstream.

On Christmas Eve, families would gather together to play cards, charades, dance, and sing Christmas songs. Some songs we might recognize are Here We Come A Wassaling, The Twelve Days of Christmas, The First Noel, Good Christian Men Rejoice. All of these songs had been around since the Middle Ages.

During the evening festivities, the Yule Log would be burned in the fire place. Originally, the Yule Log had been a fallen tree big enough to burn during the entire 12 days of Christmas. By the early 1800s, it was a large log lit on Christmas Eve and allowed to burn all night.

On Christmas Day, children might race through the house to wake people up. Gifts were not exchanged, however, children might receive something small like a sweet treat or a toy. After everyone was up, they attended a church service and afterwards went home to enjoy a feast.

 The food for the feast might have included turkey, which was brought to England from America in 1550, but most likely it was a roasted goose or a pig's head. The meat was served with vegetables such as potatoes, squash, brussels sprouts and carrots. Desserts included march pane (marzipan), gingerbread, or Christmas plum pudding. The pudding was made with 13 different ingredients which represented Christ and the twelve apostles. The ingredients included suet, brown sugar, raisins, currants, citron, lemon and orange peels, spices, crumbs, flour, eggs, milk and brandy.
At the end of dinner the Wassail Bowl would be brought in and everyone would have a drink. Wassail was a rich, heavily spiced and sweetened wine with roasted apples in it.

For more information on Regency Christmas traditions, check out Washington Irving's Old Christmas, You can either buy a copy on Amazon or search for the public domain edition aavailable on aMazon for free.

Also, for a fun peek at the kind of gifts that were exchanged during the Regency, check out Nacy Mayer's Regency Researcher blog.

If you love the Regency era then you will love my novels. Most are set in the Regency.


Lilly's Mom said...

I so enjoyed reading about the Christmas traditions of long ago. Thanks for sharing such great info. I wish you a Merry Christmas :)

Carole Jarvis said...

Enjoyed your post very much! I've loved Regencies from the time I first discovered Georgette Heyer many years ago.

Tanya @ Moms Small Victories said...

Very interesting. I didn't know Christmas tree traditions dated back to 1800's and resulted from people wanting to be like royalty. I guess some things don't change :) thanks for sharing with #SmallVictoriesSundaylinkup. Hope you join us again this week!

NC Sue said...

Thanks for sharing at

Merry Christmas!

Angie said...

At Christmas 1849 the "destitute inhabitants were provided with clothing, meat & coals" by the Duchess of Kent & the poor residing in Kew obtained a "dinner of beef & plum pudding" by order of the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge!

Tina at said...

This was a fun and informative read! Thanks for sharing it at Booknificent Thursday! Merry Christmas!

Joy said...

Merry Christmas! I get a kick out of singing songs that I know people sang hundreds of years ago.

Joy's Book Blog