Christmas is in six days. Less than a week. And I’m just barely starting to prepare to decorate. I love it when the job is done, but I don’t do it until the mood strikes. Some years, the mood waits to hit me until Christmas Eve. When I’m finally “feeling it,” it’s all done in a matter of hours because I tend to keep it simple. During the Regency period, it was considered unlucky by many to bring the greens into the house before Christmas Eve. I would have fit right in! Below is a photo of my tree and decorations from a few years ago, done mostly on Christmas Eve. I always love the glow of the tree in the dark, it was taken with the room lights out. I can’t wait until Christmas Eve this year because my sister is having a shindig, so I’ll get it done in the next few days, I’m sure.
During the Georgian / Regency period, I wouldn’t have had a tree in my parlor, but there would be festive swags of spruce boughs brightened with red holly berries, with ivy woven in among the other greenery. You would also find fragrant rosemary, bay, and laurel leaves in the mix. There would possibly be some mistletoe, depending on the sensibilities of the mistress and master of the household. Some felt that mistletoe and the kissing bough were unrefined and confined them to the kitchen, allowing the servants to hang them there. Everyday people, particularly in the country also decorated with greens for Christmas. Holly and ivy were often grown together for ease of harvesting them at Christmas. Books of the era give very little information, but Austen gives us a hint at the preparations for Christmas in UpperCross in this passage from Persuasion:
“Immediately surrounding Mrs. Musgrove were the little Harvilles, whom she was sedulously guarding from the tyranny of the two children from the Cottage, expressly arrived to amuse them. On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to he heard in spite of all the noise of the others.”
I can just imagine the bustling excitement in that scene, with children underfoot and everyone occupied in being ready for Christmas Day. There was one job that was commonly “outsourced,” though. Harvesting mistletoe was labor intensive and sometimes dangerous, involving climbing up into trees and literally “going out on a limb.” It was also a way for industrious persons to make a bit of extra money.at Christmas–harvesting and selling the mistletoe, the critical element of the kissing bough. This decoration was a work of art, with greenery decorating a frame that held the mistletoe at the bottom so there was no mistaking whether the supply of white berries had been exhausted. This orb was suspended from the ceiling and the every kiss bestowed beneath it cost the cluster of mistletoe a berry. When the berries were gone, the kissing was over. The amount of mistletoe incorporated into the bough varied by household but was certainly more than the feeble little sprigs we’ve hung in the past.
It is a common misconception that Christmas Trees were not seen in England until Queen Victoria’s husband, Albert, introduced the tradition from Germany, but this isn’t entirely accurate. It is true that this was when the popularity of the tree took hold, but George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte, also of German heritage, introduced the Christmas tree in 1800. John Watkins described it in his biography of Queen Charlotte:
“At the beginning of October the royal family left the coast for Windsor, where Her Majesty kept the Christmas-day following in a very pleasing manner. Sixty poor families had a substantial dinner given them; and in the evening the children of the principal families in the neighbourhood were invited to an entertainment at the Lodge. Here, among other amusing objects for the gratification of the juvenile visitors, in the middle of the room stood an immense tub with a yew-tree placed in it, from the branches of which hung bunches of sweetmeats, almonds, and raisins, in papers, fruits, and toys, most tastefully arranged, and the whole illuminated by small wax candles. After the company had walked round and admired the tree, each child obtained a portion of the sweets which it bore, together with a toy, and then all returned home quite delighted.”
I haven’t personally had mistletoe at the house in years. I may have to introduce it back into our family Christmas traditions. It would liven things up, that’s for sure!
It’s your turn to share! Do you decorate your house for Christmas or another seasonal holiday? When do you decorate? What kinds of decorations do you prefer? When do you take them down?