Christmas with Jane Austen
As the festive season approaches, historian Diana White, looks back to Christmas 1795 and finds the 20 year-old Jane Austen was enjoying herself.
Christmas festivities lasted 12 days, and was a time of balls and parties, of games and theatricals. For Jane and her family Christmas Day was an important religious festival. Her father’s church, its simplicity enhanced with swathes of greenery and lit by candles, would have been filled with the villagers and neighbours Jane had known from childhood. She would have taken the Sacrament and sung the carols we all know and walked back to the parsonage for a family dinner around three o’clock.
But in the days before and after Christmas, there were balls and parties to fill the evenings as the Georgians knew how to enjoy themselves. Rooms were decorated with paper lanterns and streamers, bright fires smelling of pine burned in elegant fireplaces, plates of bonbons and sugared fruits tempted guests. Country dancing was energetic so supper was a feast of delicacies. White soup, savoury pies, cold hams, sweetmeats, nuts and ices, jellies, syllabubs, and fruits would be laid out on gleaming linen cloths with delicately stemmed wine glasses for the ratafia.
This was the year when Jane, joyous and sparkling in her ball gowns as she danced the nights away, was surrounded by eligible young men, and one in particular who’d caught her attention. Tom Lefroy, the nephew of Jane’s friend Anne, was entertaining company and their mutual attraction was obvious. Jane wrote teasingly to her sister saying how shocked she’d be at their behaviour, and it seems Jane’s flirtation with Tom really did raise a few eyebrows. But Cassandra already knew what Jane was up to, (scandal travels quickly!) and had written scolding her for unladylike behaviour! Alas, despite the fun Jane had with handsome Tom, it was only a flirtation which in later years embarrassed her. But that Christmas was one she never forgot.
Retrace Jane’s steps on our guided walking tours. Find out more here