Charles Dickens helped popularize Christmas in England with his 1843 book, A Christmas Carol. Before then, in Jane Austen-era England, the holiday season wasn’t exactly celebrated to the extent that it was post-Christmas Carol. Still, all six of Jane Austen’s novels mention Christmas, and there’s definitely an era of celebration around the winter months. After all, holidays = another excuse for a ball. And who wouldn’t want to attend a ball? Unless, of course, you think that conversation should be the order of the day. Then again, there’s plenty of time for that as you sit indoors to avoid the cold weather (dresses in the Regency era were actually pretty thin, so if I had lived back then, I would definitely be cozying up to the Yule log).
Bonus: December 16 is Jane Austen's birthday, and this year would be her 240th, so it's celebration time anyhow.
The wonderful thing about Jane Austen novels is that they span long periods of time, making them the perfect read for any season. Personally, I especially love reading them over the holidays — from the description of carriages trekking through snow, to the witty family drama, to the wry observations Austen makes as her heroines are forced to attend events when they’d rather be reading, it’s basically like modern times! Minus the carriages! So this holiday season, grab your favorite Austen novel, and a highlighter, because there are plenty of ideas for new, festive traditions that you can adopt this year.
1. Enjoy A Regency Dinner
In Emma, the titular character attends a Christmas Eve dinner at the Randalls. Austen doesn't describe many of the dishes they eat, but we can guess that it was probably a typical Regency meal. And there are plenty of wonderful recipes for things like jellies and plum pudding that you can try out this holiday season! If you've always wondered what these dishes would taste like, but never tried them, now's your chance to experiment with some new recipes.
2. Make Some Regency Punch
What's the holiday season without a little drama? Mr. Elton drinks quite a bit of Mr. Weston's "good wine" at the Randalls' Christmas Eve dinner, and ends up proposing. Who wouldn't want to serve that at a party? At the very least, it'll make your guests think your plum pudding is fantastic, even if you're about as good a chef as Bridget Jones. Find a great recipe for Regency punch here, plus some interesting facts about Austen-era holiday celebrations.
3. Write Letters
In Pride and Prejudice, Lizzie writes letters mentioning the holiday season: "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." Follow her lead by putting quill to paper this winter. Bonus points if you write with a quill — give it the DIY try or order one online.
4. Read Out Loud
In Northanger Abbey, Catherine's great aunt "read her a lecture on the subject only the Christmas before." Maybe you don't want to read lectures, but reading out loud can be a fun activity for the whole family. Take turns passing around the book, or assign the job to the most dynamic family member. True story: Once I recorded audiobooks for my brothers for Christmas presents. I was 10 and got tired about halfway through, so my brother got the first few chapters of Redwall on cassette. This is how you make memories, people.
5. Host A Holiday Tea
In Persuasion, there's a perfectly charming holiday scene described:
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.
Channel this festive spirit — but cut down on cooking — by hosting a Regency-inspired holiday tea. Do a craft! Eat pie! Hold high revel! Austen would approve.
6. Perform A Play
In Mansfield Park, there's a holiday ball held at Christmas. If you don't have quite enough people to actually host a ball (there just aren't enough balls these days, am I right?), why not borrow another plot point from the book and perform a mini-play? That is, if you can handle the scandal of it. The play they perform in Mansfield Park is called Lovers' Vows, which you can find here — it makes a pretty entertaining readers' theatre piece.
7. Go To A Ball
In Sense and Sensibility, Sir John describes Willoughby by saying that he remembers "last Christmas at a little hop at the park, he danced from eight o'clock till four, without once sitting down." Is there anything more Jane Austen than a ball? OK, so it's not easy to find ones to attend, but it can be done! I recommend checking out the Jane Austen Society of North America, which often throws Austen events. I once got to go to a JASNA event and taste white soup, which was totally thrilling to me because they're always talking about it in the books. That could be you as well! Or, check out the local events in your hometown. Nothing says "Jane Austen" like a small-town holiday celebration — my town has an "Old Fashioned Christmas" each year. If you dress up enough, anything can be a ball. Right?
8. Have A Jane Austen Movie Marathon
When it comes down to it, my favorite Jane Austen holiday tradition is re-watching Austen-inspired movies (after I re-read the books, of course). For example, Bridget Jones's Diary? Does it get more festive? Huddle up with a mug of tea and your favorite Austen film, and when the wintry holiday scenes come on screen, toast to the master of starting her own traditions: Jane Austen.
Images: Giphy (8), Miramax