Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's A Jane Austen Christmas!

Ever wonder how Jane Austen and her characters celebrated Christmas? 
In Regency times Christmas was a less popular holiday than it is today or even in the Victorian times. There was time off from work and school where families and friends would gather together for evening parties, dinners or balls but no Christmas trees were to be found and few gifts were given. Attending church service on Christmas day was a must but few of the Christmas Carols we sing now would have been sung.
Yet, even though Christmas was used as more of a reference point by Jane Austen, she does mention Christmas in each of her six major novels and in Lady Susan and one of her surviving letters. 

Take a look at how the characters in each story 
celebrated Christmas:

"At Christmas every body invites their friends about them, and people think little of even the worst weather. I was snowed up at a friend's house once for a week." 
- Mr. Elton, Emma, Chapter 13
Emma: Emma Woodhouse spends Christmas with her family and friends. Her sister and brother-in-law, John & Isabella Knightley, come to stay at Harfield over Christmas with their five little children. They have a family dinner which includes Mr. Knightley on the 23rd, on Christmas Eve they all go to Randalls for a Christmas dinner with Mr. & Mrs. Weston and the odious Mr. Elton. On Christmas Day it has snowed so bad that the roads are impossible to cross for the Christmas service at the church so Emma has a snug day visiting Mrs. Weston instead. (Emma, Chapters 9-16)

“...a ball you would have this very Christmas.” 
- Mrs. Norris, Mansfield Park, Chapter 26  
Mansfield Park: Very near to Christmas Fanny Price's brother William visits Mansfield Park and they are very honored when their uncle Sir Thomas Bertram holds a ball in their honor. But William leaves on the 23rd in order to spend Christmas with his parents and siblings in Portsmouth. Edmund Bertram leaves the same day to stay with his friends the Owens in Peterborough and is ordained in the course of the Christmas week. (MP, Chapters 26)

Northanger Abbey: While Catherine Morland was spending a snug Christmas at home with her family in Fullerton her eldest brother James was on break from his college and spent Christmas visiting the Thorpe family. James falls head-over-heels for Isabella who remembers looking lovely in her "yellow gown, with my hair done up in braids". (NA, Chapters 4 & 15)

"I sincerely hope your Christmas in Hertfordshire may abound in the gaieties which that season generally brings, and that your beaux will be so numerous as to prevent your feeling the loss of the three of whom we shall deprive you." 
- Caroline Bingley, Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 21

Pride and Prejudice: Mrs. Bennet's brother Mr. Gardiner and his wife and children always spend Christmas visiting her at Longbourn. The Bennets enjoy an evening at their Aunt Phillip's house where Elizabeth has the happy task of introducing her Aunt Gardiner to Mr. Wickham. Meanwhile Caroline Bingley has written to Jane Bennet wishing her Christmas will abound in gaieties and completely happy to spend Christmas in London. But the next year's Christmas might be different, perhaps the Bennets will be spending Christmas at Pemberley!

"Mr. Darcy sends you all the love in the world that he can spare from me. You are all to come to Pemberley at Christmas." 
- Elizabeth Bennet, Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 60

Persuasion: Anne Elliot has an extended visit with Lady Russell at Kellynch Lodge over Christmas. On Christmas day they go over to Uppercross where they find the Musgrove family and the Harvilles making merry with noisy games and messy craft projects. Anne enjoys the noisy happy country life but Lady Russell prefers the noise of a town like Bath. (Persuasion, Chapter 14)

Sense and Sensibility: The Christmas before the Dashwood ladies settled at Barton Cottage Sir John Middleton held a Christmas ball at Barton Park where Mr. Willoughby reportedly danced with elegance and spirit from "eight o'clock till four, without once sitting down"! Sir John goes on to say "and he was up again at eight to ride to covert." Truly a young man with health and lively spirits who enjoys a ball as much as Marianne could do. (S&S, Chapter 9)

Lady Susan: It is shortly before Christmas that Lady Susan Vernon, tiring of her stay to the Manwarings, writes to her brother-in-law Charles Vernon informing him that she will be coming bag and baggage to stay for a long visit. Charles' wife Catherine is quite put out and writes to her parents that she and their children will be unable to make their usual Christmas visit. Although Churchill, the home of Charles & Catherine Vernon, would be such a lovely place to spend Christmas who really wants to celebrate the holiday with Lady Susan! (Letters 3 and 13)

Jane Austen's Letters: And Jane Austen herself hopes for warm weather for Christmas, she writes to her sister Cassandra in a letter dated December 2nd:
"I am sorry my mother has been suffering, and am afraid this exquisite weather is too good to agree with her. I enjoy it all over me, from top to toe, from right to left, longitudinally, perpendicularly, diagonally; and I cannot but selfishly hope we are to have it last till Christmas -- nice, unwholesome, unseasonable, relaxing, close, muggy weather.

Which of these Christmases sound the most interesting to you? Vote now!

Which Jane Austen Christmas would you choose? free polls 

Which Jane Austen Christmas did you vote for?

If you could invite any of Jane Austen's characters to Christmas dinner who would you invite?


Melody said...

Well done, Miss Laurie! What a beautiful post! =)

In the end I voted for Mansfield Park Christmas Ball, just because I would love to go to a Christmas ball, although I didn't even think about that being in MP before this! ;-) My favorite Jane Austen Christmas, though, is in Emma. Just because it's mentioned the most and there's bits of Christmas in all the movies! =)

Anonymous said...

Do you happen to remember which film the first photograph depicts? The photogrph at the top of the post wiht the house at night with the carriages?

Thank you,

Miss Laurie of Old-Fashioned Charm said...

The photo at the top is from Emma (2009) starring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller. That version emphasizes the Isabella & John Knightley's visit at Hartfield and Weston's Christmas party.

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