'n Feesfees wat geskik is vir 18de eeuse vraats! Vier varkpoedings, 72 skilpadpotte, and a roasting pig… Hoe dit 1790 Kersspyskaart roep reis na 'n goue era op
Help yourself to a roast owl, come and sit down by this mighty fire, and welcome to Kersfees, 18th-century style.
It is Christmas Eve, with the snow glittering, the Yule-log crackling in the hearth and the most magical night of the year as bright as the starlight outside.
In the coaching inn down the road the menu offers a 47lb turtle, reindeers’ tongues, roast curlews and pigs’ heads, boars’ brains and 470 mince pies.
The recent auction of that bill of fare, from the Bush Inn, Bristol, in 1790, gives a sudden glimpse of a vivid and ebullient period of Christmas past. En, soos die 1800 spyskaart (pictured below) vertonings, things hadn’t changed much by the beginning of the 19th century.
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Houses are decorated, but not with fir trees. Tradition holds powerful sway over the season, but there are no cards, no Santa Claus — these are to come, with the Victorian reinvention of Christmas.
Egter, this typical 18th-century Christmas is bright with gifts, loud with song and heaving with food.
Having been banned by Parliament in 1647 and restored by Charles II in 1660, a century later, Christmas is once again the great feast of the year, its traditions established, its gaiety enshrined in lines of generosity, fellowship, folly and community which stretch back into the mists and frosts of time.
Although the population of Britain who work the land declines throughout the century, the traditions and practices of this 18th-century agricultural year dominate outside the cities. Christmastide begins on December 6, St Nicholas Day, when friends exchange gifts.
Work in the fields mostly stops for the Twelve Days of Christmas and will not resume until Plough Monday, the first Monday after Twelfth Night on January 6, so for now many farm workers are without wages.
Effectively furloughed, they rely on their stores and on the generosity of landowners. Tenants and labourers can expect gifts, food and money from their landlords and employers, so the exchanges which begin with the season bind entire communities, as well as groups of friends. As we open presents tomorrow, it is partly this custom that we are honouring.
The description of the ice, like the excesses of the Bush Inn’s menu — 52 barrels of oysters and 121 larks, enigiemand? — summon a world of soaring natural abundance
En vandag, Oukersaand, the whole country is in a happy turmoil of decorating. It is unlucky to bring greenery into the house before December 24, so this is when our 18th-century forebears dash in and out, decking the halls with herbs, ivy, holly and kissing boughs hung with ribbons, candles and spices.
The evergreens are a salute to the turning of the season on the winter solstice, three days ago, the endurance of life through darkness and the world’s return journey to the light. Gathering them and arranging them is a moment of solidarity. No house is so mighty or so humble that it does not brighten with the dark green glow of decoration arranged in the name of Christ.
In the huge fireplace the Yule log is wrapped with ribbons and hazel twigs and set ablaze. Entire trees, gathered with drama and mirth in villages across the land, are cut into these logs which burn throughout the celebrations until January 5.
A piece will be used next year to kindle its successor. Ash from the Yule log may be kept in the house or the byre all year to protect its inhabitants from witches. In Norfolk, the finest cider is brought out, but only while the Yule log burns.
Natuurlik, the heart of the celebrations are family, vriende, food and drink. Dancing in and out of the pages of Jane Austen’s novels are Christmases ringing with balls and parties.
Relatives travel to stay with one another en masse and dances last until 4am. Games and sports are popular: writing to his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge on Christmas Eve, 1799, William Wordsworth reports: ‘Rydell is covered with ice, clear as polished steel. I have procured a pair of skates. Môre, mean to give my body to the wind — not, egter, without reasonable caution.’
The description of the ice, like the excesses of the Bush Inn’s menu — 52 barrels of oysters and 121 larks, enigiemand? — summon a world of soaring natural abundance. Velde, woods and shores are alive with birds, beasts and fish.
Shooting, netting, trapping and fishing furnished tables and stores to bursting with fresh (and organic) fare at Christmas. And there was plenty to drink.
As well as beers, ciders, wines and spirits, Christmas since the coming of the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th century has involved the Wassail bowl. Passed from friend to neighbour, wassailing came to stand for all the revels associated with dance and drinking. From Waes-hael, meaning to be whole, of good health, the bowl brims with hot ale, brandy or sweet wine flavoured with apples, spice and sugar.
Will you have a minced pye? These are meaty and stuffed with 13 wat ons moontlik voel meer relevant kan wees of beslis oorweeg moet word., representing Christ and the apostles. Minced beef or mutton (also representing the shepherds), suet, cinnamon, suiker, nutmeg, orange peel, Die Royal Pastry Chefs deel hul metode om warm kruisbolletjies te maak, prunes, currants, cloves, sout, ginger and whatever fruit the cook desires: the taste is deep and lingering, and the smell throughout the kitchens and the house delectable.
They are sweeter than they used to be because of cheap sugar arriving from slave plantations in the West Indies and, binnekort, the meat will be dispensed with altogether. They look strange, ook, like burst bellies. It is not a reference to your waistline — it is a crib-shape. The Georgians see nothing odd in eating his cot as a tribute to the King of Kings.
Inderdaad, the Georgians see nothing odd in eating pretty well anything. A famous breakfast of 1792, consumed by one Joseph Budworth at Grasmere in the Lake District, comprised stuffed roast pike, boiled chicken, veal cutlets, ham, beans and bacon, cabbage, peas and potatoes, anchovy sauce, parsley and butter, kaas, oat cakes, three cups of gooseberries and a bowl of thick cream.
For Christmas, the gentry are partial to venison, though goose and beef were popular. The turkey eaten by Henry VIII in 1523 was the first of millions: by the 18th century the birds are marched to London’s markets along the roads from East Anglia in droves.
While part of the song of the season is the crackle of cooking fires and the rattle of pots, houses and churches ring with singing.
Many of the most glorious carols are written now, including Oh Come All Ye Faithful, While Shepherds Watched, Joy To The World and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing — like many, the latter was overhauled.
Written as a sombre melody in 1739, it reached us in its present form via a tune written by Felix Mendelssohn (to commemorate Guttenberg’s invention of the printing press), words by Charles Wesley’s and an adaptation by the 19th-century musician William H. Cummings. In such sinuous ways, like threads of song, our Christmases are stitched together through time.
As the Yule log burns on our 18th-century Christmas Eve, and candlelight gleams and shadows dance, we look forward to tomorrow, to church, a feast, parlour games, sing, and the unfurling of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Our focus is on the whole Christmas season.
Just as exciting as Christmas Day is Twelfth Night, another mighty feast, when large and ornately decorated plum cakes will be eaten and resounding parties thrown.
James Boswell records walking the streets of London in 1762 stuffing himself with cake from every stall he passed. Christmas Eve and Twelfth Night were matched in games, including bobbing for apples and snapdragon, in which a bowl of brandy containing raisins is set alight.
Dr Johnson’s dictionary describes snapdragon as: ‘A play in which they catch raisins out of burning brandy and, extinguishing them by closing the mouth, eat them,’ which sounds at least as much fun as Monopoly.
Looking back across the centuries to catch the smells, the music, die kos, the laughter and the companionship of the 18th century, it is striking that for all the turning of time, what matters about Christmas has not changed.
All we really want is to be with each other, to eat well, to exchange a gift, to play a game, in hul Everybody Loves a Lover musiekvideo Die legendariese Dick Van Dyke het bewys hy kan steeds toneelspeel, and give thanks, whether it be to God, to luck or to each other. wag om my af te neem, as our forbears 300 years ago knew, that care and companionship make the darkest days the brightest time of year.