HOW TO HAVE A REAL
OLDE ENGLISHE CHRISTMASSE
f you have been reading my site you will have already seen several items about traditional English Christmases. If not, then please take a look around the site, as this information will be a good backbone for your traditional English ambience.
As far as decorations are concerned, you can choose olde worlde Evergreens, (up to the 1930's and beyond in some areas); nostalgic paper garlands (1920's-1950's or Foils (1970's-1980's) .
The Holy, Holly or Kissing Bough is a must! (See GT BRITISH CHRISTMAS English Customs.) If you want a modern version, use a bunch of mixed evergreens with a large satin or taffeta type bow near the hanger. Hang small glass baubles and ribbons along the branches. In the North Country up to around 1960, they wound narrow strips of coloured crepe paper around the wooden hoops, and hung the whole with small rosy apples, tiny gifts in pretty wraps (a chocolate, or piece of costume jewellery, or a hairpin, something small and cheap as well as the glass balls, which were called Weslyn Balls in the North of England up to the 1960's.
Glass balls and birds were very popular, and formed a part of every tree this century, together with lametta or angel hair, and a treetop fairy in front of a large star. Christmas crackers were then laid along the branches, and the whole lighted with candles. Fairy lights were slow to catch on, although we had imports from Germany in the early 1900's, from Japan from the 1920's and from America from the 1940's. By the 1960's the mass populace were just beginning to buy British made small pealights for the first time. Many had both candles and lights!
For music, be very British and play Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols from Westminster Cathedral. Or there is a wonderfully budget-priced CD entitled Mad about Christmas by a variety of different artists. From The Nutcracker Suite to The Coventry Carol, this is traditional Christmas at its best for only $6.27.
If you want something a little older, try An Early English Christmas Collection by The Sixteen. This has around nine longish arrangements of medieval carols. And if the sound of a Boys Choir is your idea of traditional Christmas music, one of the best at the moment is by the English Chamber Orchestra and choirboys of old St Paul's Cathedral in London, The Choirboys Christmas A festive joy of 21 well loved traditional carols. All of these titles are available from Amazon.com
For your reading matter any of my books are suitable, except perhaps Christmas around the World which only has a little of British Christmas recorded, but has lots of everything else for background on Christmas in other countries! For Monmouthshire Christmas (Christmas on the English/Welsh borderlands); Wartime Christmas (Christmas during WWII); Both available through iBS Bookshop.co.uk from this site.
Christmas in Shakespeares England (Christmas in the 16th and 17th centuries including descriptions of foods, decorations, entertainments etc.) Jane Austens Christmas, the Festive Season in Georgian England (Very English! 18th and early 19th century) The Bronte's Christmas (North Country Christmases in the mid-19th century) all from iBS or from Amazon.com from this site.
All these books will give you insights into family Christmases, entertainments, games, recipes, poems and extracts to read.
There is a wonderful book out in Britain called, Christmas made easy: Christmas Shopping by mail-order. Opens up a world of unusual British Christmas gifts, foods etc. subject to export legislation of course. Some companies wont export, but many do. From iBS
Old Fashioned Christmas in illustration and decoration is a Dover Book. Lots of B/W reproduction engravings of contemporary Victorian Christmases to help you get your Victorian Tree decorations just right - if you look closely!
And A Treasury of Carollers; over 20 years of Christmas tradition and remembrances. This is a US edition, so this one and the Dover Book are both available through Amazon or iBS from this site.
How to make Christmas Tree Decorations is a very useful paperback at only £6.95 from iBS, and Country Christmas fills in the gaps with details of Festive Foods, gifts and decorating. Both from iBS
MINCE PIE TRADITIONS & SUPERSTITIONS
Probably the most popular tradition which hangs on in there regardless of modern living, is the mince pie. We have a custom that you make a wish on the first one of the season. After that you try to eat at least one for every day of the twelve days of Christmas, which will then bring you good fortune for the twelve months until next Christmas. Another custom is to offer and accept a mince pie in each house you visit over Christmas. Not to offer these is bad manners, and was at one time thought to be so inhospitable as to bring bad luck on the house for the rest of the year! To refuse them when offered was to turn away good fortune.
I always make my own mincemeat, and use a variety of recipes including a 16th century recipe using real meat. But my favourite recipe is an old family recipe as follows:
(NOTE You can adjust the quantities according to your requirements) This one makes about 15lb:
- 1lb Sultanas
- 1lb Raisins
- 1/2lb currants
- peel and juice of 2 Lemons
- 2 Baking apples grated or chopped finely and mixed with 1lb Demerara sugar
- about 12 finely chopped dried figs
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon each of ground ginger, nutmeg & mace 1 cup Brandy
Mix all together, and pot in preferably a large stone crock with a cork bung, or use usual jamming jars, Make about three months before Christmas to allow to mature before use.
Make short pastry using half fat to flour, rub in and roll out as for pies, then take a patty cutter about 21/2" diameter and cut out round. Place a spoonful of the mincemeat into each pie, and put a lid on top. cut two small slashes in the top, brush with egg & milk mixed, and bake until lightly golden. You can actually make these up to 6 weeks in advance, and freeze. I usually freeze the cut out rounds on baking sheets, with film between each layer, and foil wrapped around the whole. I can then defrost as many as I want at a time, put the mincemeat in, and bake quickly so my guests have freshly made warm pies without me having to go near a rolling pin!