Saturday, November 18, 2006

Mistletoe Kisses and Holiday Traditions

Mistletoe Kisses by Elizabeth Rolls, Deborah Hale, and Diane Gaston.
A Regency Christmas Anthology in bookstores this month.

Praise for Mistletoe Kisses:

“A talented trio of authors brings together a triptych of heartwarming holiday stories perfect for the season. Though short stories, they are long on emotions and the true spirit of the season: redemption, forgiveness and love. When you need a pick-me-up from the holiday rush, grab one of these and you'll be rejuvenated and ready to celebrate the joy of family and friends.” – Romantic Times, 4 Stars

All good Regency Christmas Anthologies include Holiday Traditions of the the time period. Below the authors tell more about some of the traditions found in their novellas.

A Soldier's Tale by Elizabeth Rolls

Dominic, Viscount Alderley's family are looking to him to marry an heiress, but only his downtrodden, compassionate cousin Pippa seems able to ignore his scars….

"DH and I are greenies from way back. We've always loved having the biggest tree we can squeeze into the house - or get home for that matter! I once brought a seven foot tree home on my bicycle . . . As for the decorations; well, discretion may be the better part of valour, but it's got nothing to do with decorating a tree.

Two years ago when we moved to the country, DH and Small Boy #1 disappeared out to the back paddock after Sunday lunch just before Christmas, armed with a small saw. Small Boy was terribly excited to be going to cut down his very own Christmas tree. Half an hour later a yell of "Mummy! Come and see!" got me out onto the back porch. Well, as far as the doorway - the porch was full. Somehow we got the thing into the house and mounted in its stand. It touched the 12 foot ceiling and took up a quarter of our dining area. The kids thought it was fabulous. DH looked at in disbelief and muttered, "It looked a lot smaller in the paddock!"

Christmas trees of course were a European tradition, and not much used in England during the early part of the 19th century. They became popular after a photograph was published of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with all their numerous progeny crowded around one. After that everyone had one.
They are however part of the old pagan Mid-Winter festival, held at the Solstice to encourage the sun to return for another year. Anything green in the midst of the bleak, seeming-death of winter, such as holly, ivy, bay, rosemary and mistletoe, was considered a miracle promising fertility for the coming year. And the Yule log and the lighting of the fire symbolised the return of the sun and life as well.

When the Christian Church came along they subscribed to the if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em school of conversion, and simply planted the Christian Holy Days (holidays) on top of the old pagan celebrations, adding their own Christian symbolism to the prevailing traditions. The wonderful thing about a symbol is that it is very, very flexible. Just think of all those literary arguments about what books really "mean". The truth is a symbol can mean something slightly different for everyone, including the author. The promise of new life and renewal in the midst of death was just as appropriate to the Church as to the pagans.

I knew when I wrote "A Soldier's Tale" that Christmas trees were Out. But I was thinking of all this when Dominic's household decorated the Great Hall at Alderley - of all men he most needed that assurance of renewal and hope.


A Winter Night's Tale by Deborah Hale

This year's festivities for Christabel and her young son will be sparse and cold--or so she thinks. When the man she'd loved and lost returns, offering her warmth, comfort and a true family Christmas, she can't resist!

A Christmas tradition I included in A Winter Night's Tale is not unique to the Regency, but is one of the few that was part of the very earliest Christmas celebrations and still persists to the present -- music! I could live without a Christmas tree or gifts, perhaps even the turkey dinner more easily than I could a Christmas without its music. I remember so many Christmases as a child practicing special pieces for our junior choir to sing at our Candlelight service. One of my most special Christmas memories was of going carolling around my neighborhood with a group of friends on a snow Christmas Eve. For the past twenty years, my husband and I have often participated in "The Messiah from Scratch" where musicians from all over the city spend an evening rehearsing and singing the awe-inspiring music of Handel.

I have such a huge collection of Christmas CDs, I have to start playing them early in November. Not surprisingly, some of my favorites include music from the past that's been (nearly) forgotten. I highly recommend the two Carol Albums by The Taverner Consort. Another favorite is the a capella music of The King's Singers -- The Boar's Head Carol is one of my favorites. Here in Canada we have an amazing musical group Winterharp, who play such recreated medieval instruments as the Bass Psaltry, Organistrum and Nickelharpe, as well as the most beautiful harps. Here's a link to their website: Even closer to home, The Rankin Sisters released a wonderful Christmas album a few years ago, "Do You Hear What I Hear?" which includes a couple of Gaelic carols as well as a rollicking rendition of "Welcome Yule" and a touching one of "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree."

What is your favorite Christmas music? Is there a particular carol that brings back special memories? If you'd like to follow some other links to historical Christmas music or read Christmas scenes from some of my past novels, come visit my Historical Christmas page! Wishing all the HH readers a Happy Historical Holiday!


A Twelfth Night Tale by Diane Gaston

One impulsive night of love changed Elizabeth's life forever. Now, ten years later, Elizabeth and Zachary meet again. Will their second Twelfth Night together see their happiness reborn?

Learning more about the British customs, folklore, and legends of the holiday season was one of the joys of writing A Twelfth Night Tale. My heritage is mostly French/German (although I do have a Campbell for a great-great grandmother), so many of the British traditions were unfamiliar. I mean, I knew there was something called “wassail” from reading English Literature and Regencies and singing the Wassail Song, but I never knew exactly what wassail was (ale or wine spiced with roasted apples and sugar, yum).

One custom completely new to me was First-Footing. The legend has it that, in order to have good fortune all the year, an uninvited stranger--a dark man--should be the first to cross the threshold on New Years Day. He might carry symbolic gifts- salt (or a coin) for wealth; coal for warmth, a match for kindling, and bread for food. The householder might offer him food and drink. It was most desirable for this strange man to be tall, dark, and handsome. In some villages one tall, dark, and handsome fellow was selected to visit all the houses, receiving food and drink at each one. A tough job, but somebody had to do it!

First-Footing customs apparently stretched back to Greek culture. The hair color of the first-footer seemed to vary according to the area of Great Britain. Many sources indicated it was a very popular New Years tradition in Scotland and still is, in a varied form. Now friends visit friends and bring the traditional gifts and also share a wee dram of whisky.

Some places said the legend cautioned bad fortune to befall the house if a woman was first-footer, which I feel is sex discrimination! But then, equality for women didn’t occur to anyone for several centuries. Bad fortune would also ensue if the stranger, tall and handsome or not, was a fair man with blond hair. In other words, if he were a Norseman come to plunder and pillage.

I’m all for including this tradition in my household celebration this coming New Years Day. I’ll have refreshment ready, even though I’m So-Not-A-Cook. I’ve already decided who my tall, dark and handsome stranger can be---Gerard Butler!



Who would you like your First-Footer to be? We’ll be very liberal and not discriminate. Give yourself free rein!

What is your favorite Christmas song?

What are your favorite Christmas decorations?

Do you have any special traditions that you celebrate?


Deborah Hale said...

Well, since you've already called, Gerard, Diane -- I'll console myself with Clive Owen. Or perhaps Jason Isaacs, who was my inspiration for Jonathan Frost.

Diane Perkins said...

I had to look up who Jason Isaacs was, but after seeing his photos, I can really see him as Mr. Frost

I loved the story Deborah. What a great hero Frost was.

Elizabeth said...

My first footer? Er, I'll have Viggo Mortenson, thank you very much! in his Aragorn incarnation. Oh, be still my beating heart! Long, hank hair and scruffy beards sooo do not do it for me usually, but boy is he the exception to proves the rule! I won't even make him leave the sword at the door. If he did, my kids would probably kill each other with it;-)

Elizabeth Rolls