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Monday 17 November 2014

Guest Post: Alex Field - Christmas in the Regency Era

One of the joys of writing the Mr Darcy series is that Jane Austen has already set out such a fabulous cast of characters. The challenge has always been to keep the books true to Austen’s time during the Regency era.

In Mr Darcy the Dancing Duck I used Mr Darcy‘s famous quote as inspiration:

"Certainly, sir; and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world; every savage can dance.”

 A maypole was featured (drawn by the talented Peter Carnavas) which Jane Austen referenced in a letter to her sister Cassandra. It was a good way of incorporating the theme of dance into the picture book. Animals in a ballroom would not have worked, but outside in the garden they could come together to celebrate the beginning of spring as they danced around the maypole.

When I began writing a Christmas story for Mr Darcy I had to research Christmas during Regency times. Often Christmas came and went without much fanfare.

Austen only references it once in Pride and Prejudice:

“Mrs Bennet had the pleasure of receiving her brother and his wife, who came as usual to spend Christmas at Longbourn.”

In Persuasion Austen comments on the “Christmas fire” and “silk and gold paper”. There were no Christmas trees. Prince Albert was responsible for this addition a few years later.  Similarly the Christmas stocking had not been introduced and its bearer, Santa Claus, was not yet the highlight of Christmas.

However the plum pudding dates back to the 1660s when it was banned by the Puritans for being too rich but it became popular once again during the reign of George I and came into its own in the Victorian era. Finally I had found something that is still familiar to us at Christmas.

In Austen’s time celebrations began on the last Sunday before the beginning of Advent, the day the Christmas pudding was made. This special day was and still is known as Stir-up Sunday.

The Christmas pudding became the central focus of Mr Darcy’s Christmas. Stir-up Sunday was a day my grandmother always used to celebrate. On this day everyone in the household has to stir the pudding mixture with their eyes shut and make a secret wish. It was a tradition my sister and I loved and marked the beginning of the Christmas festivities.

The tradition of Stir-up Sunday allowed me to create a scene with Mr Darcy and his friends coming together to celebrate Christmas without the need for Santa, a Christmas tree or carols. There is a little mistletoe in the book; evergreens were often used to decorate the home in the Regency era. You will have to read Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding to find out what happens under the mistletoe!

Charity and family were very much at the heart of Christmas. If you would like to celebrate Stir-up Sunday with your children it falls on Sunday 23rd November.

Alex Field has written for print and online media and is the author of several picture books, including three books about Mr Darcy - Mr Darcy (KBR review), Mr Darcy the Dancing Duck (KBR review) and the recently released Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding (KBR review), all published by New Frontier publishing. Follow Alex's Facebook page to keep up to date with her latest book news and events.