Guest Post: Barbara Tiller Cole and Holiday Traditions
As part of our Austen Authors holiday celebration, we’re delighted to welcome Barbara Tiller Cole, the author of Christmas tale Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy as our guest. As Tiny Tim would have said, “God bless us, every one!”
Elizabeth Darcy and Barbara Tiller Cole Discuss their Favorite Holiday Traditions
(First of all, I want to thank Austen Authors and Abigail Reynolds for the invitation to share this guest post. Merry Christmas to you all!)
Elizabeth Darcy: Ms. Tiller Cole, I am thrilled to have this opportunity to visit with you here in the future. However, I am still not sure how I happened to arrive here!
Barbara Tiller Cole: I am not sure how you came to be here either, Mrs. Darcy, but am delighted that you have found your way to my home for a visit. Please call me Barbara. I’d love to hear about your family’s favorite Christmas traditions. I have studied some of the English traditions myself, but would like to know more directly from you.
Elizabeth Darcy: Barbara, you must call me Elizabeth. I would be happy to discuss this with you. I love decorating the house with fresh greenery from our evergreens, hanging the mistletoe balls,.. But it never feels like Christmas until I first see Fitzwilliam in his shirt shelves—uhhh—leading the tenants as they bring in the Yule log. The only thing better would be if his shirt was wet, but that is not possible during the Holiday season. Oh my, did I say that out loud
Barbara Tiller Cole: (laughs) Yes, you did, Elizabeth. I can imagine that could be awe-inspiring. I actually participated in a Yule log ceremony when I was in graduate school, but it was just a one-night event. I believe that you burn the Yule log for twelve days—from Christmas to January sixth, which is Epiphany. Am I correct?
Elizabeth Darcy: Yes, we do burn it for twelve nights in a row. It is a tradition to keep a piece of wood from the prior year’s Yule log to light this year’s log. Fitzwilliam begins scouting the perimeter of Pemberley for the largest tree, with the hardest wood in the summer each year. He normally chooses two or three that might suffice and his steward notes them as well. Then when the Holiday season is upon us, they go and see which is in the best condition and easiest to cut down. It is a long process, as the tree is usually found in a remote part of the property. It takes carts and wagons and horses, as well as many servants and tenants to bring the Yule log into the blue parlour in the main house.
Barbara Tiller Cole: So you burn it each evening during those twelve nights?
Elizabeth Darcy: Yes, it is lighted each night for twelve successive nights, but the first night—Christmas Eve—is the most important. There is a traditional D’arcy family song written long ago in France that is sung as the log is brought into the parlour. The lighting ceremony includes a reading from the family history and a poem we all recite as the prior year’s remains lights this year’s log. It is believed to be bad luck if the log does not catch fire on the first attempt, so my Fitzwilliam makes sure to douse it with some candle oil. I told him that was cheating, but he insists. His grandfather told him once that it had been thus for as long as he could remember and should continue! This Darcy family tradition is ONE thing I would never try and change about my beloved husband. (laughter)
Barbara Tiller Cole: That is delightful. I have read about some of the parlour games that were played in your era around the holidays. One of them particularly intrigues me. Do you play Snap-dragon?
Elizabeth Darcy: We only played it once. It was on our second Christmas together. I had heard about it, and wanted to try it. Snap-dragon is best played on Christmas Eve, and I wanted to surprise Fitzwilliam and play it in our chambers after we left the rest of the party. I took his best brandy and had Mrs. Reynolds heat it and place it in a wide shallow bowl. She put the raisins in the bowl ahead of time for me, but I could tell she was not so sure that I should be trying this particular game. I extinguished all but one candle and as Fitzwilliam came into the chamber, I was giggling as I lit the brandy. There was an eerie effect of blue flames playing across the liquor. I told him that the aim was to pluck raisins out of the burning brandy and eat them. We played and laughed, but he dropped one of them into his lap. Well, it was too hot and it landed… Well, let us just say that he was hoping around in pain for quite awhile after that accident. He has forbidden another attempt if you understand. (Giggles) Please tell me about one of your favorite holiday memories, Barbara.
Barbara Tiller Cole: When I was seventeen I won the part of the Virgin Mary in the Stone Mountain Park Nativity Festival. Each evening the events of the nativity were played out on the walk-up side of the mountain. We were in appropriate costumes for the period. When the babe was born each night, the heavenly hosts, who were a choir from the Atlanta area, would sing carols. It was wonderful. But one night, the donkey that I rode up the side of the mountain was feeling a bit, should we say, disagreeable and took off with me on his back. I was riding sidesaddle with a fake pregnant belly at the time and held on to his mane for dear life. A gallant knight finally caught up with us. Made me wonder if the donkey was really just a stubborn mule, but we were able to go ahead with the rest of the show!
Elizabeth Darcy: Oh my! What a memory!
Barbara Tiller Cole: Yes, it was. In fact it was such a widely attended event, that I was on the cover of many newspapers around the world, including the London Daily News that Christmas as the Virgin Mary.
Elizabeth Darcy: Do you still have any of the newspapers, Barbara?
Barbara Tiller Cole: No, I can’t seem to find them. But I do have a copy of the picture.
Elizabeth Darcy: How delightful! I so enjoy our talks together and hope we can talk more about our traditions on a future visit! May your story continue to do well! Fitzwilliam and I love it. Thank you for the signed first edition copy of Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy for the Pemberley library!
Barbara Tiller Cole: You are very welcome. Merry Christmas to you and Mr. Darcy! I look forward to speaking with you again soon, Elizabeth!
Pride and Prejudice meets A Christmas Carol
A Jane Austen/Charles Dickens crossover story, Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy takes the best of both classics and spins them into a delightful Holiday treat! F.E. Darcy has fallen into pitiful self-loathing and sorrowful angst-ridden despair; all of this due to his belief that he has lost forever the chance to marry the only woman he has ever loved—Elizabeth Bennet. Seeing her son in such a state, the Ghost of Anne Darcy reaches out to him; informing him that three ghosts would visit him and give him hope. Will these Spirits provide him with the courage to try again to win the esteem of his one true soul mate? Barbara Tiller Cole, an Atlanta native and the writer of the popular book White Lies and Other Half Truths, presents this family friendly classic—a delightful combination of the best of her two favorite authors, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. Barbara credits her parents with fostering a love for both of these authors. Each Christmas, Barbara’s father would sit and read Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol to the family. Her mother consistently challenged her to improve her mind by extensive reading, Jane Austen style. This book is dedicated to the memory of Cliff and Jeanne and the season they loved the best.