The Twelve Days of Christmas

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
A Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
Two Turtle Doves and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

By this point in the Christmas season, many of us have heard this song so much that we wish we could not hear it again until next year.  Never fear, this post is not about the song.  Today, we are going to look at celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas, when they are, and a bit about the history of the observance.

The Twelve Days of Christmas, beginning on Christmas Day and ending on January 5, is the festive Christian season that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, as the Son of God.  This period is also known as Christmastide.  Unlike today, the period leading up to Christmas, called Advent in the Christian church, was not a period of parties and celebration.  Advent, typically beginning 4 Sundays before Christmas, is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for celebrating the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. Continue reading

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Christmas Pudding

A flaming Christmas Pudding

Hallo! A great deal of steam!  The pudding was out of the copper.  A smell like a washing-day!  That was the cloth.  A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that!  That was the pudding!  In half a minute Mrs Cratchit entered-flushed, but smiling proudly-with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.

“Oh, a wonderful pudding!” Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs Cratchit since their marriage.  Mrs Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of flour.  Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family.  It would have been flat heresy to do so.  Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing.

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (1843)

Traditions are tricky things; we like to think that they have been observed forever, but when we start tracking them we often find that they do not extend as far back in history as we thought.  One Christmas tradition in the UK, and in much of the United States until the late 19th century, is the Christmas pudding.  How old is this tradition and how has it changed over the years?  Let’s take a look and see if we can uncover the truth about the ghosts of Christmas puddings past. Continue reading

Social Dancing – a matter of import II

Regency Era Ball

In Part One we touched upon the Master of Ceremonies and his duties.  This job was so vital to the conduct of a ball that we would be remiss if we did not take a closer look at the position.  Following that we will address how the Georgian era ball goers kept their energy up for a long night of dancing and offer a few “modern” versions of some Georgian era favorites

HE WHO MAKES THE RULES……….

As we mentioned earlier, the Master of Ceremonies controlled the ballroom.  He was responsible for introductions, instructing the musicians, deciding which dances to do and in what sequence, maintaining order and settling any disputes.

In addition, other items kept the Master of Ceremonies busy throughout the evening.  For instance, there were rules that no gentleman could enter the ballroom in half boots or boots, nor carrying a cane, nor could any military man enter carrying his sword; and that no two ladies could dance together without his express permission.  (It is doubtful how often this was enforced outside of the major venues such as Bath and London.  This was a period where England’s Army and Navy were busy reigning in Bonaparte’s activities on the continent and at sea so, there was a shortage of young, eligible men at many of the balls.  It was apparently so prevalent, that Jane Austen remarks on it in her letters.)

In fact, the Master of Ceremonies was of such import to the entire “Ball culture” that, there were often balls designated to honor the Master of Ceremonies for a subscription series.  (At the Upper Assembly Rooms at Bath, there were two balls set aside each season in his honor)

Beau Nash - First Master of Ceremonies at the New Assembly Rooms

Beau Nash – First Master of Ceremonies at the New Assembly Rooms

The first Master of Ceremonies to preside over the Assembly Rooms at Bath was Beau Nash who, in 1704 became Master of Ceremonies and retained that title until his death in 1761.  He is widely credited in playing a leading role in making Bath the most fashionable resort in 18th century England.  Nash would meet new arrivals to Bath and judge whether they were suitable to join the select “Company’ of 500 to 600 people who had pre-booked tables.  He would match ladies with proper Continue reading

Social Dancing – a matter of import

dance-rowlandson-1790s

 

Balls and Assemblies were some of the most socially important events in the lives of the Georgian who was trying to climb the social ladder or, for those who had risen to the middle or upper classes, and wished to maintain their position.  In this week’s post, we are going to look at the types of balls, their social significance, the etiquette of the ballroom, and other items that governed the “Ball culture” of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Due to a lack of available documentation on the culture of the “Ball” here in the United States, the information we will discuss primarily focuses on England.  While there may have been some small differences, it is doubtful that the “Ball culture” here in the United States changed very radically in the years closely following the American Revolution.  One can hardly imagine George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or James Madison “rubbing elbows with blacksmiths or shopkeepers at a ball in the early Republic.

TYPES OF BALLS, THEIR VENUES AND THEIR SOCIAL PROTOCOL

There were three main types of Formal Balls in late-Georgian/Regency England and they played a significant role in many people’s lives.  These balls included; Assembly or Assembly Room balls, smaller balls held at country inns, and Private Balls; given at a country home by a private citizen.  These social events, as we shall see, were ways to network, establish business connections, and give young people an opportunity to meet prospective future spouses.

Assembly Room Balls Assembly rooms were public venues specifically built for public balls.  These existed mainly in larger cities where the social life could support the cost of construction and upkeep.  These assembly rooms were one of the few places of entertainment, besides theaters, that were open to both sexes in this period.  In the larger towns, a set of assembly rooms might consist of a main room and several smaller subsidiary rooms such as card rooms, tearooms and supper rooms.  In small towns, it was often just a single, large room.

Almack's Assembly Rooms - London

Almack’s Assembly Rooms – London

Among the best-known Assembly Rooms are Almack’s in London, the New Assembly Rooms in Bath, and the Assembly Rooms at Harrogate, Yorkshire.  However, a little oasis of wealth and culture was blooming in Truro, Cornwall, in the far west of England.  The center of the social life in Truro was the beautiful Assembly Rooms, built in 1780, that held splendid balls once a month.   Continue reading

A Matter of Honor – Dueling in the Georgian Era

 

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to work with the Regency Society of Virginia to make a video short called “A Gentleman’s Duel.”  This video showed the actions that led up to a fictitious duel between 2 historical personalities from Virginia after the Battle of Craney Island.  Working with this subject piqued my interest in the history of dueling and resulted in this post.

In 1712 two members of the House of Parliament in London — the Duke of Hamilton and Lord Mohun — had a disastrous encounter.  These individuals had a lawsuit pending for 11 years, and so, were not the best of friends.  While discussing their case with a legal court officer, the Duke of Hamilton commented that one of the case witnesses, who was favorable to Lord Mohun, had neither truth nor justice in him.  Lord Mohun’s reaction to this insulting comment was to suggest that the witness had as much truth and justice as the Duke of Hamilton.  The Duke made no reply to this comment and as he left, he courteously saluted the Lord.  No one suspected the how seriously Lord Mohun had taken the remark.  That evening a messenger from Lord Mohun twice tried to find the Duke to challenge him to a duel.  The messenger finally found him in a tavern and delivered the message.  The Duke accepted the challenge, and the principles set the meet for two days later at 7 a.m. in Hyde Park.  As was the usual practice, the principals appointed assistants in the duel — called seconds.  At the scheduled time the participants met in the part of the park called the Nursery and prepared for combat.  When all was ready, the two opponents took up their swords and forcefully fought each other.  Lord Mohun died on the spot, and the Duke of Hamilton died while his servants were carrying him away.  This settled the argument and the lawsuit.  (Roth, 1989)

Early 18th Century Duel

Early 18th Century Duel

Throughout the Georgian Era, personal honor, pride, and revenge often took precedence over other principles, including life itself.  A careless remark, made without thought of offense, could result in one receiving a challenge to settle what the other person saw as a matter of honor.  As Joseph Addison commented in The Spectator: “Death is not sufficient to deter men who make it their glory to despise it” (Addison, no date). Continue reading