Wednesday, January 6, 2021
Friday, December 4, 2020
by Regency Romance Author, Donna Hatch
Few symbols of Christmas are more admired than the Christmas tree, and nowadays, most countries that celebrate this holiday have their own version of Christmas trees. Before that, evergreens were a commonly hung adornment in homes, not just at Christmas but all winter.
Dating back hundreds of years, people in many countries hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows, hoping to ward off witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and even illness. According to legend, it wasn’t until about 722 in Germany, that whole trees arrived on the scene. In the Middle Ages, the Germans and Scandinavians brought evergreen trees to the door or sometimes even inside their homes to display their hope that spring would soon come. It also symbolized eternal life.
One popular story about the origin of the evergreen being a Christmas tree tells of Saint Boniface who encountered a group of pagans about to sacrifice a child at the base of an oak tree. Appalled, and rightly so, Saint Boniface stopped the sacrifice and even cut down the tree to prevent future sacrifices. Later, a Fir tree grew at the base of that oak stump. St. Boniface took that as a sign and spread the word that the evergreen was a holy tree because its branches pointed to heaven as a sign that it belonged to the Christ child, and that the fir was a symbol of His promise of eternal life.
Another legend attributes Martin Luther the credit for the origin of the Christmas tree. In the 1500’s on Christmas tree, Mr. Luther took a walk through a snowy forest. The sight of the moonlight shimmering in on the snow-covered woods that starry night touched him so much that he cut down a small fir tree and brought it home for his family. They decorated the tree with small lit candles in honor of the birth of the Christ child.
According to All About Jesus Christ, The Origin of the Christmas Tree:
Research into customs of various cultures shows that greenery was often brought into homes at the time of the winter solstice. It symbolized life in the midst of death in many cultures. The Romans were known to deck their homes with evergreens during Kalends of January 15. Living trees were also brought into homes during the old Germany feast of Yule, which originally was a two month feast beginning in November. The Yule tree was planted in a tub and brought into the home. But there is no evidence that the Christmas tree is a direct descendent of the Yule tree. Evidence does point to the Paradise tree, however. This story goes back to the 11th century religious plays. One of the most popular was the Paradise Play. The play depicted the story of the creation of Adam and Eve, their sin, and their banishment from Paradise. The only prop on the stage was the Paradise tree, a fir tree adorned with apples. The play would end with the promise of the coming Savior and His Incarnation. The people had grown so accustomed to the Paradise tree, that they began putting their own Paradise tree up in their homes on December 24.
The Hanoverian kings, who were from a duchy of what became present-day Germany, adopted the use of Christmas trees -- the tabletop variety -- with real lit candles. While the candles were lit, a footman or a member of the family stood by with a water pot to prevent the risk of causing a fire.
Christmas trees came to England with the German Prince, Albert, when he married Queen Victoria in 1840, and brought his German Christmas traditions with him. In 1848, an engraving of the Royal Family celebrating Christmas at Windsor was published in the newspaper which showed Victoria and Albert standing with their children around a Christmas tree. Since the English adored Queen Victoria, the general populace adopted the custom of a Christmas tree with ornaments.
German immigrants brought the Christmas tree to America as early as 1747. Pennsylvania had the first record of one being on display in the 1830s. The average American in New England, however, rejected Christmas trees, viewing them as pagan symbols. Puritans viewed Christmas as sacred and shunned anything they considered frivolous. However, with an influx of German and Irish immigrants, the Puritans lost their power, further fueled by the illustrated version of the newspaper that had a sketch of the royals with their tree. After all, what was done at court immediately became fashionable—not only in England but with fashion-conscious East Coast American Society. This combination eventually undermined the Puritan legacy. Never to do anything small, the Americans soon graduated from small table-top trees such as the Europeans used, to the floor-to-ceiling trees we know today.
As a Regency author, I seldom use Christmas trees in my stories unless I establish a family tradition with German roots for my fictional characters. But there are lots of other English fun traditions I discovered, after much careful research, that were honored, and that I include in my writing. Many of those traditions, including Yule Logs, Mistletoe or kissing balls, and other fun Christmas traditions went into my full-length novel, Christmas Secrets, available in print and ebook, and free on Kindle Unlimited. You can purchase your own copy, or give it as a gift, here:
A stolen Christmas kiss leaves them bewildered and breathless.
A charming rogue-turned-vicar, Will wants to prove that he left his rakish days behind him, but an accidental kiss changes all his plans. His secret could bring them together...or divide them forever.
Holly has two Christmas wishes this year; finally earn her mother's approval by gaining the notice of a handsome earl, and learn the identity of the stranger who gave her a heart-shattering kiss...even if that stranger is the resident Christmas ghost.
Grab your copy on here!
Don't have time to read a full-length novel during the holiday season? Check out these novellas, short enough to enjoy and romantic afternoon escape, and long enough to have a swoony happily ever after.
Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Wednesday, September 2, 2020
Thursday, August 6, 2020
First, we must travel back to the sixteen hundreds, when King Charles II’s Portuguese bride, Catherine, brought a cask of it along with her dowry. She unwittingly started a new fashion--afternoon tea. However, tea came largely from the Orient, so it was expensive. Therefore, only the rich could afford tea until larger amounts began to be imported, resulting in lowered prices. Still, tea in the afternoon didn't become common until the 1700's. Thomas Garraway introduced tea in his London coffee house claiming tea had medicinal qualities with this advertisement:: “This excellent beverage, recommended by all Chinese doctors, and which the Chinese call ‘Tcha’, other nations ‘Tay’ or ‘Tee’, is on sale at Sultaness Mead close to the Royal Exchange in London.” (Le Palais des Thes)
By the Regency Era, the custom had long-since caught on and the upper class had afternoon tea about four o’clock, which was before the fashionable time to promenade in Hyde Park if one resided in London. Afternoon tea included, of course, tea served hot. In addition to tea, one might find any of these tasty treats: small finger sandwiches (thin and crust-less, thank you), biscuits (which the Americans call cookies), seedcake, macarons, and small cakes sometimes called fairy cakes with butter icing which were about the size of mini cupcakes. Regency tea did traditionally include petite fours but with macarons available, that would suit me just fine. There has been much discussion among Regency enthusiasts as to whether scones with jam and clotted cream (also known as Devonshire cream) were served during the Regency or if that became more common during the Victorian era when High Tea became such a grand affair. Without a time machine, one may never know.
Food with tea probably evolved because the upper classes ate dinner at the fashionable time of about eight o’clock at night, and since many had not yet adopted the custom of luncheon or nuncheon, they probably needed that small meal in the middle of the day. Personally, I like a small meal in the afternoon even though I do eat lunch. I would have made a great hobbit with the custom of eating "elevensies" and lunch and afternoon tea, etc. But I digress.
“High Tea” developed during the Victorian era. Some accounts say that high tea, served later in the day at about five or six o’clock, originated with the lower classes but I don’t understand how they could come home from work for high tea and then return to work for a few hours and then go home again for dinner. *shrug* Plus, tea was expensive so not many of the lower classes could afford it.
At any rate, High Tea is a more filling meal than afternoon tea. High tea usually comes with white and brown bread, meats such as roast pork, fish like salmon, scones, an assortment of sweets such as cake pie, trifle, lemon-cheese tarts, sponge cake, walnut cake, chocolate roll, pound cake, currant teacake, curd tart, a variety of cheeses, jellies, as well as butter or clotted cream. In addition, the term High Tea comes from how and where the guests are seated. According to Laura Boyl in her article "Tea Time" on the Jane Austen website: the different names are derived from the height of the tables where the meals were served. Low tea is served on a table, which in the United States would be called “coffee tables.” High tea is served on the dinner table.
Most sandwiches in the UK are traditionally made with a very thin white bread, generously buttered with potted paste. The potted paste could similar to deviled ham, but also could be a fish paste--salmon, for instance, very thinly spread. I guess they liked their pleasures small, thin, and bite-sized.
Tea was (and still is, sometimes) served in a china or silver pot accompanied by slices of lemon or milk. They never put cream in their tea or it ruined the flavor. According to Regency researcher and author, Kathryn Kane, tea leaves used during the Regency were chopped much more coarsely than those used today. The large size required that the tea be steeped for a longer period, but it also made it easier to strain the used leaves from the tea after it had been steeped. There was a special implement included in many tea services used to clear the strainer at the base of the spout of the teapot or to strain the used leaves out of each cup before it was served. You can find more details at: http://regencyredingote.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/the-mote-skimmer-a-specialty-tea-accessory/
However, Regency author Grace Kone, who is British, told me that if it's done correctly, the tea leaves stay on the bottom, with just enough pouring out to make a scattering of leaves for fortune-telling. (It sounds very Harry Potter, doesn't it?) Grace said she has never in her life strained leaf tea. Other British friends such as author Janis Susan May Patterson use a tea ball, which is a small metal case into which she places the tea leaves. These are also known as 'tea eggs.' Other British friends pour their tea into their cups through a silver tea strainer.
Here is a recipe, courtesy Regency author, Miranda Neville, for cucumber sandwiches:
- Very thinly sliced white bread (or whole wheat if you insist on being healthy but really, why bother?). I use Pepperidge Farm Very Thin
- Good quality unsalted butter
- English cucumbers (about† one and a half per loaf of bread)
1. Slice the cucumbers very thin. Put them in a colander mixed up with some salt, weigh them down with a plate, and leave them in the sink to drain for an hour or two.
2. Wash the salt off and pat dry with a dishtowel.
3. Butter the bread.
4. Put two layers of cucumber slices in each sandwich and press flat with your hand so it all sticks together, preferably without becoming totally squashed.
5. Cut off the crusts (very important). With a big sharp knife cut each sandwich into four – triangles, squares, or strips, your preference.
Me, again. After some trial and error, I decided I like cream cheese instead of butter, but that is a modern substitution.
Here is another tea party must (at least in my opinion)--macarons. From “The Royal Pavilion at Brighton a booklet A Choice Selection of Regency Recipes you can now make at Home” here is a recipe for macarons.
2 oz ( 55 g) ground almonds
2 oz (55) g caster sugar
a few drops rose water (or whatever flavor you prefer)
1-2 drops almond essence
about 12 slivered almonds (optional)
Heat oven to 160C/325F/gas3
Line a baking sheet with baking parchment paper. Whisk the egg white until stiff. Using a large metal spoon, fold in ground almonds, sugar, rosewater (or your choice of flavoring), and almond essence. Mix until blended into a smooth thick paste.
Using a teaspoon, put blobs of the mixture on the lined baking sheet, leaving space between them to allow for expansion during cooking. Flatten with the back of a spoon. If you like you can top each with a sliver of almond. Bake for about 20 minutes until light golden brown. Transfer to wire rack and leave to cool. Makes about 12.
Trust me, these are delicious. I prefer to make them the modern way with a dab of buttercream frosting in the middle of two so they make a sandwich cookie, but they're tasty plain.
I’m not a traditional tea drinker because I don't use caffeine, so I deviate with herbal tea in my cup and I like to add a little honey. But you can use any preferred tea and any desired sweetener. The use of a pretty teacup and the fun finger foods is what it's all about.
Having Afternoon Tea is great fun. I think my next party will be a tea party. Recently, I discovered wearing a tea party hat adds to the atmosphere. Have you ever attended or hosted a tea party?