Hi friends! Are you in the midst of Christmas preparations and celebrations? This Christmas season has seen a lot of lovey new holiday Austenesque releases and two of them are from author Maria Grace! I can tell Maria Grace has a fondness for the Christmas season, she has published several stories taking place during the Christmas season. In addition to the three Christmas stories mentioned in this post, there is also A Jane Austen Christmas and Twelfth Night at Longbourn, which is about Kitty Bennet! Maria is here today to share about gift-giving traditions during Jane Austen’s time. We hope you enjoy!
Thanks so much for having me Meredith! I’m so excited to be with you this Christmas season! It’s been a doozy of a year in these parts, so much that it calls for not one, but two Christmas books. The two books go along with The Darcys’ First Christmas, kind of forming bookends to the story. Darcy and Elizabeth: Christmas 1811 tells the behind the scenes story of what might have happened during the Christmastide Darcy spent in London, while the militia (and Wickham!) wintered in Meryton. From Admiration to Love tells the story of the Darcys’ second Christmas. Imagine trying to hold Georgiana’s coming out at the Twelfth Night ball as Lady Catherine and Anne de Bourgh descend as very unwelcome guests. The story was such fun to write, I hope you love it as much as I do!
Interestingly, one of the thing that does not figure prominently in the story is gift giving. That’s not to say no gifts are exchanged, just that the traditions were different in the Regency era. St. Nicholas Day, Christmas Day and Twelfth Night were the most likely days for gift exchange, although old traditions called for gifts to be exchanged on New Year’s Day.
Many gifts exchanged were gifts of obligation between unequal parties. Land owners and the well-off presented charitable gifts to beggars and the community’s poor. They also provided favors to their tenants, servants and tradesmen they patronized. These tokens might be coins, food, particularly expensive foodstuffs, or castoff clothes and goods.
Gifts might also be presented from those lower in status to those above them. Beggars offered songs, holly springs or simple handicrafts to their benefactors. Tradesmen might send special goods like Yule Candles to their best patrons. Tenants might bestow gifts of their harvest to the landowner in recognition of generosity and possibly to encourage him not to raise their rents.
Social equals like friends and family also might indulge in gift giving, though men and women did not exchange gifts unless they were married, engaged or related by blood. These gifts were generally more personal in nature than obligatory gifts.
Ladies might showcase their accomplishments in their gifts. Skilled hands prepared embroidered handkerchiefs and slippers for loved ones. Clever needles could create scarves, shawls, laces, trims and similar items. Paintings, drawings and other decorative arts graced a variety of gift items.
Gifts could be and often were purchased, with clothing and jewelry (especially that made with locks of hair) being among the most common items for both sexes. Books, sheet music, fancy boxes and supplies for activities like writing or handicrafts were also popular.
See how such gifts figure in this excerpt Darcy and Elizabeth: Christmas 1811.
December 6, 1811 St. Nicholas’ day. London
Just over a se’nnight later, Darcy stepped out of his solicitor’s office onto the largely barren street and adjusted the capes on his greatcoat against the sharp breeze and grey looming skies. It was unfortunate Mr. Rushout could no longer continue in his office as Pemberley’s steward. Fortunately, the solicitor knew of some promising candidates. But reviewing their letters of introduction would take some time and meeting with them would take even more. With any luck the process could be completed by spring.
That meant he would have to supervise the spring planting more closely than usual, but perhaps that was not a bad thing either. A man should never get too far from the business of his land. He patted his portfolio, stuffed with letters and papers to review.
Deep thunder rattled the nearby windows and a chill blast of wind, tinged with the scent of impending rain, tore past. The downpour would not hold off until he reached Darcy House. But there was a coffee house—Blair’s—just two streets away. If he hurried, he might make it there before the storm.
Fat raindrops pelted him the last half dozen steps to the coffee house, but he ducked inside just before the pounding rains unleashed. A serving girl saw him to a table in an isolated corner and took his order. He sat with his back to the wall and glanced about the room.
The place smelt a bit dank, but that may have just been an artifact of the weather. On the whole it was probably cleaner than most such establishments. The table was covered with a clean cloth and it seemed the floor had recently been swept; all details in its favor, even if the furnishings were mismatched and somewhat dingy, a little like the clientele. Still, the other customers appeared gentlemanly enough to make this a tolerable enough stop.
Appealing aromas drifted from the kitchen, baked goods, soup or stew perhaps, and the strong scent of fresh coffee. The serving girl returned with a pot of coffee and a platter of cold meat and bread. A bit of nuncheon would help distract him from the tedium of the task at hand. He broke the seal on the first letter of introduction, a Mr. Northwick. Studied at Eton and Cambridge…
He started and looked up, directly into Bingley’s grinning face.
“Fancy meeting you here. I had no idea you frequented Blair’s too!” Bingley pulled out a chair and sat down.
“I have never been here before. It seemed an expedient location to avoid the rain.”
“An expedient location to avoid the rain? Seriously, Darcy?” Bingley laughed heartily, cheeks glowing whether from the chill weather or his mirth, Darcy could not tell. “At least you are enjoying some of their very fine coffee. You must have some Sally Lunn bread. It really is not to be missed.” He waved the serving girl over and requested some, along with a pot of tea.
That was Bingley. He had a way of just marching into one’s quiet life and injecting his own brand of marginally controlled mayhem into it.
“I am glad to see you. Very glad. Caroline has an invitation she wants me to convey to you.”
“Caroline? I thought we had discussed the matter already and you know my thoughts quite clearly.”
“Pish posh, Darcy you are jumping to conclusions. Caroline is hosting a Christmas dinner at the town house and wishes to include you amongst the guests.”
“You know I do not prefer to socialize. It would be best for me to abstain.”
“Darcy, you ought not spend Christmas alone. That is far too lonely a fate for a man with both friends and family. Besides, this party is your fault.” Something in Bingley’s tone—a party being someone’s fault? That was a sentiment quite unlike him.
“My fault? That is absurd.”
Bingley raised his index finger and shook it at him. “I would not be here in London, apart from your forceful insistence that it was the right and proper thing to do. Were I not in London, this party would not be happening. Thus, since it is your fault I am in London, the party is equally your responsibility as well. As such, you must attend.”
Darcy huffed and rolled his eyes. It almost sounded as though Bingley did not enjoy being in London. But that was hardly possible. He always enjoyed London.
“Surely you cannot tell me you object to Christmastide entertaining?” Bingley drummed his fingers on the table.
Though he was not apt to socialize, he did not on principle object to Christmastide socializing. This year was different, though. If only he might be left alone, he might quiet the cacophony in his own head. One which centered on Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head sharply. Why was it, the very thing he least wanted to dwell upon would not leave his mind for a king’s ransom? Perhaps distraction among merry society was the best thing indeed. “No, I do not object. You may thank your sister for her gracious invitation, and tell her I will be there.”
“Capital! Absolutely capital! She will be very pleased.” The serving girl dropped a plate of warm Sally Lunn bread on the table between them. “Now, we must enjoy some of this bread before it gets cold. You will not regret it.”
“The party or the bread?”
Bingley was correct on one count; the bread was excellent. As to the other, it would remain to be seen.
The rain dwindled to a tolerable drizzle and Darcy offered his take leave, tucking his neglected paperwork back into his portfolio. Bingley could be a bit of a rattle at times, but sometimes the distraction was pleasing, even if it meant he now had a social obligation for a Christmas dinner. Wearisome as it might be, Bingley was probably right, it was better than spending the evening alone.
Even with just sprinkles and mist, the rain left him feeling damp and vaguely cold by the time he reached Darcy House. Leaving his greatcoat with the housekeeper to be properly dried, he bypassed his study and went directly to his room for dry clothes, his favorite banyan, and a warm fire. He settled into his favorite overstuffed leather chair and propped his feet up.
The room was quiet save the fire’s crackling. Shadows danced along the walls’ walnut paneling. Deep green wool drapes were pulled shut against the chill. Snug and warm and private, if a little lonely.
Though he had not asked for it, the housekeeper sent up a mug of hot cider which accompanied a small package on a silver tray. What was that? He picked it up, revealing a note bearing his name in a very familiar handwriting.
He leaned back and smiled. She had remembered. That probably should not please him so much as it did, but there it was.
He opened the note.
My dear brother,
I am sorry we could not be together this St. Nicholas’ Day, but I find I enjoy our tradition far too much to allow distance to stand in the way. I hope this finds you well and warm, and that you will think of me when you use it.
He chuckled softly. In some ways they were so alike. He had sent a similar note and package to Pemberley with instructions to Mrs. Reynolds to make sure Georgiana had it today. Hopefully she would enjoy the new sheet music—perhaps she might even play for him when he returned. She was still so shy after all that had happened. Would that ever change? What would it take to see her back to her cheerful, albeit quiet self?
He opened the brown paper wrapping revealing three embroidered linen handkerchiefs, one with his initials in white silk, one with a fine pulled-thread design, and the last with a sprig of lavender. What an odd choice.
Miss Elizabeth always smelt like lavender. No doubt it would be one of her favorite flowers. She would appreciate Georgiana’s fine sewing and her thoughtful generous nature. Miss Elizabeth would probably be good for Georgiana, helping her find laughter and confidence once again.
What would Elizabeth think of the Darcy family tradition of St. Nicholas Day gifts? Would she find it frivolous or old fashioned, or just too sentimental? No, she seemed far more sympathetic than that. What family traditions did the Bennets observe during the Christmastide season? What would it be like merging traditions from two families? Would it be difficult to embrace different customs even as he would want her to embrace his?
He threw his head back and groaned. What a ridiculous chain of thoughts. Why should the Bennets’ Christmastide practices matter to him? And why did she continue to come, unbidden into his thoughts?
Aww! So lovely to see Darcy practice this tradition and that he would involuntarily think of Elizabeth at such a time! I’m always interested to see what Darcy does and what he thinks when he travels away from Meryton. I can’t wait to read Darcy and Elizabeth: Christmas 1811 and all of Maria Grace’s Christmas stories!!
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