Friday, December 28, 2007

Late Christmas Presents

I promised to tell you the answer to my teaser last week: what was wrong with the picture in my Regency Christmas post. Clever Jen recognized that the stocking hanging on the mantel is an American custom. Here are the other two issues: the Christmas tree and the present in the gentleman’s hand.

Marissa’s little queen may have had a tree in 1832, but earlier in the nineteenth century only those of German descent (which, hey, includes most of Queen Vic’s family!) put up Christmas trees. For most of England, it was an unknown custom. Likewise the giving of presents: the upper classes were more likely to give presents on Boxing Day (December 26) and only to those who had given them good service in the previous year. Boxing Day was also a traditional day to go hunting, in full regalia on horseback with your loyal hounds. (And thanks to the online Britannica Student Encyclop√¶dia for the spiffy photo.)

The other time you might give a present, and then a present of food, was New Year’s Eve. After midnight, the first person in your door was supposed to bring gifts of food for all. If this “First Footer” was male, he brought good luck to you for the year. On New Year’s Day, you feasted, and the King and Queen heard an ode by the Poet Laureate, the lead poet in all the land.

While I can’t claim to be a Poet Laureate (okay, I can’t claim to be a poet at all!), I do have some (hopefully) interesting words up on the web. My book’s webpage is now live, and I’ll have a new surprise every week. I do hope you’ll stop by.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas, 1832 Style


The following is an entry from Queen Victoria's diary from 1832, when she was 13. That's five years before she became queen, in case you're wondering. The picture here shows her at about that age, along with her mother, the Duchess of Kent. I've abridged the entry slightly to get rid of some not-very-interesting and not-relevant-to-Christmas bits (like who came over for lunch, that sort of thing.) Some things about Christmas then and Christmas today are surprisingly similar: though they exchanged Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve, they had Christmas trees with candles and ornaments and presents arranged around their foot.

I hope you find this interesting--and Merry Christmas to all of you!

Monday, 24th December

"...At a 1/4 to 7 we dined with the whole Conroy family and Mr. Hore downstairs, as our Christmas tables were arranged in our dining-room. After dinner we went upstairs. I then saw Flora, the dog which Sir John was going to give Mamma. Aunt Sophia came also. We then went into the drawing-room near the dining-room. After Mamma had rung a bell three times we went in. There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed around the tree. I had one table for myself and the Conroy family had the other together. Lehzen [Victoria's governess] had likewise a litle table. Mamma gave me a little lovely pink bag which she had worked with a little sachet likewise done by her; a beautiful little opal brooch adn earrings, books, some lovely prints, a pink satin dress and a cloak lined with fur. Aunt Sophia gave me a dress which she worked herself, and Aunt Mary a pair of amethyst earrings. Lehzen a lovely music book. Victoire a very pretty white bag worked by herself, and Sir John a silver brush. I gave Lehzen some little things and Mamma gave her a writing table. We then went into my room where I had arranged Mamma's table. I gave Mamma a white bag which I had worked, a collar and a steel chain for Flora, and an Annual; Aunt Sophia a pair of turquoise earrings; Lehzen a little white and gold pincushion and a pin with two little gold hearts hanging onto it; Sir John, Flora, a book-holder and an Annual. Mamma then took me up into my bedroom with all the ladies. There was my new toilette table with a white muslin cover over pink, and all my silver things standing up on it with a fine new looking-glass. I stayed up till 1/2 past 9...."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Regency Christmas

Bah, humbug! That phrase has certainly been heard often enough through the years. Charles Dickens’ character of Ebenezer Scrooge is a Christmas icon. But his attitude toward Christmas is not so far off for the first 40 years of the nineteenth century. Only after Marissa’s beloved Queen Victoria had been on the throne for a while did Christmas begin to take on the glow we know today.

But it wasn’t all tedious and staid. Those who liked to celebrate brought in evergreen boughs, holly, ivy, hawthorn, laurel, bay, and a pale white Christmas rose to decorate their homes. Mistletoe was less common, because it grew mostly in the western and southwestern parts of England and was mostly used among the lower classes. Like today, it was hung in doorways and watched by young gentlemen in hopes of catching a pretty girl to kiss. In some places, it was the custom to pick a berry for each kiss. When all the berries were gone, no more kisses could be taken.

Ah, but far more fun was the kissing bough, a hanging structure made from evergreens, apples, paper flowers, and dolls representing Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus, with wire and bright ribbon holding it all together. Like the mistletoe, the bough was hung from a doorway or chandelier. And its kisses didn’t have an expiration date.

Probably my favorite custom, though, involves the Glastonbury Thorn. This hawthorn
tree is said to have grown from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, the man who gave his tomb for the disciples to lay Jesus’ body after the Crucifixion. Legend has it that Joseph came to convert the Britains, landing at the Isle of Avalon and climbing Wearyall Hill to what is now Glastonbury Abbey. There he planted his staff, which budded and bloomed. Ever after, the Glastonbury Thorn miraculously budded on Christmas Eve and bloomed on Christmas Day, unlike other trees that huddle in winter’s gloom. People took slips from the famous tree and planted them elsewhere, where they took on the same amazing aspect as their parent. By 1850, there were 11 such thorns in England, and people came from far and wide to see them and marvel at Christmas.

Today, the Queen of England has a spray of flowers from a tree descended from the Glastonbury Thorn on her table on Christmas Day. May your Christmas be as bright and blessed!

And if you need a little brain teaser between now and next Friday, look closely at the first picture in today’s post. It’s part of the cover from a previous book of mine. The setting is warm and cozy, and romance is in the air. Unfortunately, there are at least three rather large historical errors in plain view. Can you tell me what they are?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

And Now For Something Completely Different


You'll have to forgive me for (a) being late with this post and (b) going off-topic. It's been an exciting few days for me and Regina and twenty-six other authors of debut kids' books as we enter the final count-down to January 1st and the launch of the Class of 2k8.

The Class of 2k8 is a group of first-time authors of middle-grade and YA books being published in 2008. We banded together to help promote our books and have been working since spring on deciding what efforts we would pursue and how we'd go about getting the word out about 28 amazing new books and 28 new voices in children's literature.

The reason these last few days have been both hectic and exciting is that in ten days, our website will be fully up and loaded with information about our books, including our two January releases, Liz Gallagher's The Opposite of Invisible and Lisa Schroeder's I Heart You, You Haunt Me. We'll be showcasing all our books as they're released with videos and virtual launch parties, and our blog (www.classof2k8.blogspot.com) is already up and will be updated daily. We've also got MySpace, Facebook, and Jacketflap presences, and... well, there will be a lot going on throughout the year.

It's been a lot of work...and I mean a lot. As co-president of the Class I spent many hours over the last several months that I could have been writing on Class matters. But the rewards are enormous: not only the website and all, but the friendships I've gained through working with my amazing co-president Jody Feldman (The Gollywhopper Games, HarperCollins, March 2008) and all the other members of our group.

Please check in to the Class of 2k8's web homes frequently. There are some awesome books coming out in 2008!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Not Quite the Twelve Days We Know

You know the song, the one that sticks in your mind this time of year? “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . .” Turns out it was sung in nineteenth century England, but not quite the way we sing it today. The order and items were a bit different. And the song was a memory game, in that the first person to forget an item was out.

So, here’s what young people would have been singing to torment their governesses and tutors from December 25 to January 5:

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four colly birds (colly birds were blackbirds), three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, five golden rings, four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, seven swans a-swimming, six geese-a laying, five golden rings, four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, nine drummers drumming, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, ten pipers piping, nine drummers drumming, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eleven ladies dancing, ten pipers piping, nine drummers drumming, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, twelve lords a-leaping, eleven ladies dancing, ten pipers piping, nine drummers drumming, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Phew. Maybe that will get the tune out of my head. And into yours.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Horsing Around, Part II: Good Habits


Last week we discussed horses and carriages and guys driving too fast (and probably not asking directions). This time, I’d like to talk about the other side of horsing around: riding.

As you might have guessed from looking at the clothes, there weren't many forms of physical activity or exercise that women and girls in the 1800s could do and still be thought proper--so if you’ve always hated gym, you were probably born in the wrong century. One of the few (I’ll talk about the others in a future post) was riding.

Again, we’re speaking relatively here. Grooms and stablehands did all the horse care and saddling and so on, which is half of what makes riding such great exercise. All an upper class nineteenth century girl had to do was amble down to the stables and climb aboard…after she’d changed into the proper costume, of course. You couldn’t wear something frothy made of silk and lace when you were about to gallop around the muddy countryside on horseback, so you wore a riding habit.

A riding habit was generally made of a sturdy fabric like wool broadcloth, trimmed maybe with little luxurious touches like a velvet collar or a fine linen stock (high neckcloth, like a man’s cravat). It generally consisted of a skirt and coat, cut very form-fitting. A hat, often copied from a man’s style but with a veil added in, and gloves completed the costume. Pantaloons were worn underneath it for modesty’s sake in case (horrors!) you fell off, and the skirt was cut with extra fabric so it draped nicely when you were settled into your sidesaddle.

Yes, sidesaddle. Women in polite society did not ride astride. Sidesaddles have a sort of crook that you hook one leg over while the other has a stirrup. It sounds more precarious than it actually is, and many, many women were quite dashing riders.

Horseback riding was not just for country life. A favorite activity for elegant young women during the London Season was riding in Hyde Park, either on the sandy path known as “Rotten Row” or on the Ladies’ Mile. A morning ride was a fabulous way to see and be seen (remember, you were wearing that very handsome and figure-revealing habit), gossip with friends and flirt with the boys, and make plans for afternoon shopping or evening partying. Horsing around, indeed!

Friday, December 7, 2007

License to Drive

Marissa’s in the clouds over her cover (and who wouldn’t be!), but I’m still dreaming of driving. Carriages, that is.

Now teens learn to drive cars, taking driving courses, getting permits, practicing.
Young people could drive carriages much earlier in nineteenth century England. If you were lucky and a bit wealthy, your parents allowed you a pony cart, a jaunty box on two wheels pulled by a pony, to drive about the country estate. Usually only the gentlemen graduated to something bigger, but it was not unknown for a lady to have her own curricle built for two.

Just like when you study for a driver’s license for a car today, manuals were available to study to learn to drive carriages. Here’s what Hints to Horse-Keepers by Henry William Herbert had to say in the 1890s:

“The eyes of the driver should be always on his horses, yet always about him. While he should see every strap and buckle within eye-shot, every movement of the horses’ ears, every toss or shake of their heads, and every step that they take, he should also see every vehicle coming toward him, every object by the roadside or elsewhere, which might possibly frighten his team, and every stone or uneven place in the road on which they are likely to step, or which may come in the way of the wheels. To sit in this manner, and to be thus watchful while driving a pair of lively horses, and at the same time to appear perfectly at ease, is no small accomplishment; still it may be attained by practice, and is essential to elegance in driving.”

Yeah, that’s what I want for Christmas: elegance in driving. I’ll work on that.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I Could Just About Burst


You'll have to wait for further entries on horses and Queen Victoria for another week. Today I am pleased (aw, heck, thrilled) to present to you...my cover!

Regina speculated that based on the cover of her upcoming book, La Petite Four, readers would think it was about pink. I'm not sure what they'll think Bewitching Season is about, based on mine (though I know they'll be thinking that the designer, Henry Holt's Assistant Art Director Laurent Linn, is a genius and knows his historic costumes), but I hope they'll think it's intriguing enough to pick it up and read it and...oh. What is it about, you ask? Well...

Twins Persephone (Persy) and Penelope (Pen) Leland are facing the prospect of their first London season with mixed feelings...sort of. Pen can't wait for the dozens of balls and parties and handsome suitors, but Persy would far rather stay home with their governess, Ally, and continue her magic studies. The only thing drawing her to London in this spring of 1837 is the prospect of seeing Princess Victoria, her and Pen's idol.

But then Ally disappears from a busy London street and the twins are drawn into searching for her...and find that her disappearance is linked to a dastardly plot to enchant the soon-to-be Queen. Persy also discovers that a good lady's maid is hard to find, that one should never cast a love spell on anyone after drinking too much punch at a party, that pesky little brothers can sometimes come in handy, and that even boys who were terrible teases when they were twelve can mysteriously turn into the most perfect young men...

I love my cover. I hope you'll love my book. It'll be out April 1, 2008 from Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.