Well, Christmas is on its way now and like many other wives and mothers I am getting into the festive mood and preparing to welcome visitors here over the holiday.
I have also been looking at how Christmas was celebrated in the eighteenth century – not amongst the rich or the aristocracy but the "middling sort", people more like my own family. This would include people such as Anne Hughes, a farmer's wife who kept a diary at the end of the 18th century.
In her diary entry for 23rd December 1796 she says she and her maid were busy preparing food for Christmas, including "boiled hams, great big mince pies, roast gees and hens and boiled and roasted beef" while her mothe- in-law made "a pudden for carter and shepherd". She also describes a meat cake that that was very well received – it seems to have been a cake tin lined with pastry, a layer of "chopped beef, onions and herbs", then a layer of pastry and more layers of meat mixture and pastry until the tin was filled. This was "cooked until done" (not very helpful). It was served cold in slices, like a cake, and her neighbours were most impressed! On Christmas day she also served "2 hares, spice pudding, apple pies, junkets, cider cake, cinnamon cake and a rich Christmas cake." Her husband was at one end of the table, carving the beef and geese and Farmer Ellis at the other, cutting the hams etc.
In the evening two fiddlers played while they danced a merry jig, "Mistress Prue" played a merry tune upon the spinet and after that they told stories, played "Popp" and snap dragon, bobbed for apples, ate cakes and wine then "danced till supper".
It sounds like a really lovely Christmas day – compare this to the diary entry some forty years earlier from Thomas Turner, a Sussex Shopkeeper. Thomas tells us that on Christmas day he and his servants attended church, then they had a few visitors to dine on "a buttock of beef and plumb suet pudding". So far, so good, but Thomas tells us that in the evening he read "two nights of the Compaint" – a book of religious night thoughts – "...one of which was "The Christian's Triumph against the Fear of Death".
Two very different views of Christmas, one much more reflective than the other, but both quite recognisable today. How will you be spending your day? Do tell!
Beneath the Major's Scars - pub Dec 2012 Harlequin & Boon
The Illegitimate Montague - pub Dec 2012 Harlequin Mills & Boon