Diary of a Resurrectionist, Wednesday 25th December 1811

Wednesday 25th
At home all day and night

The early Regency Christmas is a little obscure, though it was a time of celebration. Many of the traditions of the modern Chtristmas appear with the Victorians, but Christmas was a time of celebration at the start of the Regency.

The ‘Public Spirit of the Age’ ( a journal published in 1812, containing material collected across 1811) carries a letter published in the General Evening Post on Boxing Day 1811 concerning one tradition which clearly existed; a rich Christmas dinner with food like mince pies and plum pudding and roast beef. The letter itself is a rambling story about a ‘humourous’ dream the writer has where his stomach, and various food stuffs complain about over-indulgence, but the opening of the letter might have been written in 2011.

“The day is at length arrived – one such day only in the year – when we agree to a suspension of all murmerings and complaints; when we forget the war and the taxes and the hard times to enjoy the comforts and luxuries of a Christmas dinner…”

A Dicitionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Frances Grose, published in 1811, also gives the tradition of men known as Waits;

“Musicians of the the lower order, who in most towns play under the windows of the cheif inhabitants at midnight, a short time before Christmas, for which they collect a Christmas box from house to house. They are said to derive their name of waits from being always in waiting to celebrate weddings and other joyous events in their districts.”

From Grose’s dictionary also comes the amusing ‘game’ the Christmas Gambol, better known as Snapdragon…

“Raisins and almonds being put into a bowl of brandy, and the candles extinguished, the spirit is set on fire, and the company scramble for the raisins.”

Traditionally, the ‘game’ was played at Christmas, especially on Christmas Eve.

A roarinf christmas fire seems to have also been a focal point

The Christmas tree was apparently introduced by Queen Charlotte, or perhaps earlier (by the Georgian monarchs, because of their German ancestry, the decoration of the tree having a German origin) but I am not sure that it was popularised until the Victorian era and am unsure whether or not Mr Naples and his family would have had a tree in their own home. However, there were decorations, such as holly and mistletoe.

There was a tradition of presents, and the Times carries several advertisements on it’s front page for December 25th 1811, suggesting toys and books (one being a catechism for children) and games as suitable gifts for Christmas and the new year.

“Christmas Presents – Variety of toys, new books and games etc for the amusement and instruction of children, at Edlins Toy and Tunbridge Warehouse, No.37, New Bond Street”

Edlins was quite a famous toy shop.

(The same front cover also carries the advertisement of a reward of 100 guineas for information relating to the horrific ratcliffe Highway murders, which were terrorising the community 200 years ago this month; several columns inside are given over to the latest evidence being heard at Shadwell with regard to John Williams, the then-suspect…)

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About theresurrectionists

My name is Kirsty Chilton. I am a Medical Historian working in London and relentlessly searching for the body snatchers of 18th and 19th century London. Currently, the content of this blog is a personal project to repost and comment on the diary of 19th century Resurrectionist Joseph Naples 200 years from the time it was written.
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