Historical Holiday Traditions
By Mary Jo Putney, Sabrina Jeffries, and Madeline Hunter, Authors of Seduction on a Snowy Night
In honor of their new story collection, Seduction on a Snowy Night, grand dames of Regency-era romance Mary Jo Putney, Sabrina Jeffries, and Madeline Hunter share favorite Christmas customs from times past.
MARY JO PUTNEY
What is a more joyous symbol than glittering boughs? The use of trees and greenery to celebrate winter holidays goes deep into the European past, but the Christmas tree in Britain sprang from German roots in 1800 when George III’s bride, Charlotte of Mecklenburg, introduced the custom to the British royal family. As a child, Queen Victoria loved Christmas trees, and her 1840 marriage to her German cousin Albert was the catalyst for the custom spreading to all classes.
Hessian mercenaries brought Christmas trees to America during the Revolution. As in Britain, the custom began to attain widespread popularity around 1840, as magazines and newspapers wrote stories about this new holiday pleasure that has continued to delight generations.
When I was researching my contribution to Seduction on a Snowy Night, I learned that a favorite Yuletide treat was gilded gingerbread. It’s exactly what it sounds like: gingerbread that was made in moulds, baked, painted with an egg-white wash, and then covered with gold leaf. Since the earliest documented gingerbread figures were baked for Elizabeth I, and Germans were gilding gingerbread figures and houses as early as the eighteenth century, the practice was widespread by the Regency period.
But was it dangerous to ingest all that gold? Probably no more so than eating the latest trendy dessert or cocktail containing gold leaf. The problem came when bakers tried to save money by using Dutch foil, made of copper instead of gold. Several period texts warned against this, since you might poison your primary customers: children!
During Regency and Victorian times, the holidays extended to January 5, the eve of the Epiphany. Decorations remained up until then, and people closed the season with parties and balls.
One special dish served at these events was the Twelfth Night Cake. Though similar to a modern-day fruit cake, this was a huge dessert heavily iced and topped with elaborate sugar figures and settings. Baked into each confection was one bean and one pea, and the man and woman who found them in their slices would be crowned the king and queen of that evening’s festivities.
Today, our season precedes Christmas, but there are still homeowners who do not take down the decorations until January 6 because of this old tradition.
This winter, steal away with the reigning queens of Regency Romance . . . to a surprise snowstorm, the comfort of a blazing fire, and the heat of a lover’s kisses . . .
A CHRISTMAS ABDUCTION by Madeline Hunter
Caroline Dunham has a bone to pick with notorious rake Baron Thornhill—and a creative plan to insure his undivided attention. Yet once in close quarters, she finds herself beholden to their smoldering connection . . .
A PERFECT MATCH by Sabrina Jeffries
Whisked away from a wintry ball by the officer she knew only through letters, Cassandra Isles struggles with her feelings for the commanding Colonel Lord Heywood. For he, secretly a fortune-hunter, must marry for money to save his estate—and Cass, secretly an heiress, will accept nothing less than
love . . .
ONE WICKED WINTER NIGHT by Mary Jo Putney
Dressed as a veiled princess, Lady Diana Lawrence is shocked to discover that the mysterious corsair who tempts her away from the costume ball is the duke she once loved and lost. Now snowed in with Castleton at a remote lodge, will she surrender to the passion still burning hotly between them?
About the Authors