Christmas past

Postcard, Herzliche Neujahrsgruße!, August Rokl, New York Public Library Digital Gallery
"Herzliche Neujahrsgruße!, August Rokl," New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Plenty of authors and historians have talked about the fact that, contrary to what the average person assumes, Christmas in the Regency was vastly different from Christmas in the Victorian period. No one hung stockings by the fire, few people put up trees, and Santa was nonexistent.

This is problematic for authors writing Christmas romances. We can’t even substitute “Father Christmas” for Santa; he’s really more of a symbolic representation of Christmas than a figure who brings presents. There’s no equivalent for Santa in Regency England.

Some authors deal with this by sticking to the elements that did make up the Christmas celebration in Regency times: the Yule log, evergreens hung in the house, mistletoe, Morris dancing, and the Christmas feast. I did that in my only Christmas novella—”When Sparks Fly.” But for my recent holiday hardcover release, I wanted more of a feel of what we Americans consider Christmas.

Photo, Sabrina Jeffries, Image provided by author

Sabrina Jeffries, courtesy of author

So I cheated.

No, I didn’t ignore the history. That would be wrong. I simply went to the roots of where our American traditions came from, and then adapted the background of my hero’s mother to suit. That’s why my hero’s mother is half-German. Because most of our Santa/stocking-hanging/Christmas-tree-loving customs come from the Netherlands and Germany.

And what I did isn’t really that odd. The Hanover kings and queens were of German descent, so Queen Charlotte was putting up Christmas trees at the palace as early as 1800 (my book is set in 1826). It took a while for the custom to spread to the rest of England, but I figured that someone with a German heritage would celebrate the same way as she had in her youth.

It also helped that I threw in the poem we popularly know as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” (the original title was “A Visit from St. Nicholas”). That was easier to justify. The poem was published in the U.S. three years before my book was set, so it was just a matter of having the half-German mother receive a clipping of it from an American cousin.

And honestly, I consider my deviations to be a widening of an inaccurately monolithic view of an era. Having grown up in Thailand, I know that no society is ever homogenous. People did travel a great deal in the Regency, which is how Indian foods and Middle Eastern spices and Dutch characters could become part of the English culture. So as long as an author is willing to be a little creative and ground an atypical element in a character’s believable background and experience, she can do just about anything she wants!

Sabrina Jeffries

At the tender age of 12, Sabrina Jeffries (aka Deborah Martin and Deborah Nicholas) decided she wanted to be a romance writer. It took her 18 more years to get there, during which she took a detour to get her Ph.D. in English Literature from Tulane University, but once she got the chance to write romances, she never looked back. She is now the award-winning author of 35 novels, five novellas, and three short stories, including her holiday hardcover, ‘Twas the Night After Christmas. Her sexy and humorous historical romances routinely land on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. She lives in Cary, North Carolina, with her husband and son. Find out more about Sabrina Jeffries.

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