Decking the Regency Halls

Victorian Christmas TreeIn the Regency era, there were no Christmas trees in the parlors of London. Christmas trees were a custom that wouldn’t catch on till Queen Victoria and Prince Albert imported the tradition from Germany. But that doesn’t mean there were no decorations for the holiday season–which began on Christmas Eve and continued till Twelfth Night (which coincides with Epiphany, January 6th).

It was considered unlucky to bring greenery into the house prior to Christmas Eve, but Regency folk used evergreens for that special day. The most popular decoration was a “kissing bough.” It was fasioned of ivy (to symbolize women), prickly holly (to represent men) and mistletoe (to give young men an excuse to claim a kiss!)

Kissing boughEach time a kiss was forfeited, the gentleman was supposed to reach up and pluck off one of the mistletoe berries. When the berries were all gone, no more kisses could be stolen.

Kisses freely given? That’s another story!

Another Regency tradition was the Christmas candle, which was lit on Christmas Eve. It was expected to burn through Christmas Day. This may have been a nod to the older custom of a Yule log which provided heat during the 12 days of festival, but by the beginning of the 19th century, few fireplaces would accomodate such a monstrous-sized log!

I love the smell of a real tree but haven’t had one in years, because of the fire hazard. I wonder if we limited our celebration to the 12 days of Christmas I’d feel differently about it. We start running ourselves ragged over Christmas starting with Black Friday.

Is there something to be said for an abbreviated holiday season?

6 thoughts on “Decking the Regency Halls

  1. MiaMarlowe says:

    I’;m with you, Heather. If we condense the holiday into a shorter time, I really think we’d focus more on the important aspects of Christmas–family and faith.

  2. Heather Snow says:

    It would be lovely to abbreviate, I think. Local radio stations started playing Christmas Carols here the day after Halloween. Halloween!!!

    I loved the detailed description of the kissing bough…I’d never heard that once the berries were gone, so were the kisses :)

  3. MiaMarlowe says:

    What a great idea, Deb. Sounds like your family is making some wonderful memories and learning a bunch about other cultures along the way.

  4. Deb says:

    Hi, Mia. Thanks for the post, especially info about the kissing bough/ball. We are “doing” English-Canada (Prince Edward Island mainly since my BIL’s mother is from there) for Christmas. Anyway, my mom is making the kissing ball and this tidbit of info will be fun to read.

    What, you ask, does “doing” mean? Well, about 15 years my sisters had traditional meals at Thanksgiving and Christmas (our family and in-laws) and decided, “Let’s celebrate other countries’ Christmas traditions and meals.” So, we have and still do. Granted, since my MIL lives in TX, we don’t get another traditional meal after Thanksgiving, so I invite my folks down in January for a turkey-with-all-the-trimmings meal.

    We’ve had faves: Denmark (of course, our heritage), Russia, England, Scotland, and, for Dad last year, 1940s American.

    We no longer have a real tree either due to the fire hazard and still sweeping up pine needles in March!

    Sorry for the long answer. :)

  5. MiaMarlowe says:

    Obe–It never ceases to amaze me how many different, yet eerily similar, customs spring up around a holiday. Old Buck is a new one to me.

    Thanks for the Williamsburg link. What a fascinating place that is!

    St. George Tucker came from Bermuda, from a prominent family who was rumored to be involved with the Bermudian “Powder Steal” around the time of the American Revolution. A group of colonials demanded the powder in the English magazine on the island in exchange for much needed trade goods. They made off with all the barrels of powder and no one was ever caught and punished for the theft.

  6. Obe says:

    On the Outer Banks of North Caroline “old Christmas” January 6th is still celebrated. That’s when “Old Buck” comes to town. A man under a cloak and holding deer horns to handout the last presents. Of course, I hear its also the last night to get totally looped before one concentrates on those holiday bills from Black Friday. LOL

    Great information. Thanks Mia.
    By the way first Christmas tree in Williamsburg was in December 24, 1842 in the parlor of the St. George Tucker House. Before that time, Virginians had been quite content with the traditional English garlands and wreaths made from freshly cut indigenous greens such as holly, pine, and spruce. http://www.gallagherstravels.com/States/VA/christmas/ Great pictures of Colonial Williamsburg too.
    Happy Holidays!

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