The holidays this year will undoubtedly look different from past gatherings. Many of us will be staying home with our immediate families, only seeing relatives via Zoom, Facetime, or some other digital service. Those who do get to gather together will likely be keeping safer distances, and might even be masked, for further protection.
It’s hard not to reflect on how we could often step into our parents’ or grandparents’ homes and immediately fall back into old habits: we know where the dishes are, the spare blankets are kept, and possibly even where the extra bag of Reese’s peanut butter trees are hiding.
Hence the Word of the Week.
To run tame about a house; to live familiarly in a family with which one is upon a visit.
Was Christmas a time for familiarity during the Regency? Did offspring and siblings return home and feel comfortable enough to ransack cupboards and put feet upon the settee? Did friends and family visit each other? Let’s see what the oracle Jane Austen had to say.
In Pride and Prejudice, it’s revealed that the Gardiners came to visit the Bennet household for Christmas, suggesting it was an annual event. Bless them.
On the following Monday, Mrs Bennet had the pleasure of receiving her brother and his wife, who came as usual to spend the Christmas at Longbourn.
~Pride and Prejudice, Vol 1, Chapter 25, p 217.
Earlier, Caroline Bingley had written her treacly letter from London to Jane, and included a passing wish for her Christmas happiness.
“When my brother left us yesterday, he imagined that the business which took him to London might be concluded in three or four days; but as we are certain it cannot be so, and at the same time convinced that when Charles gets to town he will be in no hurry to leave it again, we have determined on following him thither, that he may not be obliged to spend his vacant hours in a comfortless hotel. Many of my acquaintances are already there for the winter; I wish that I could hear that you, my dearest friend, had any intention of making one of the crowd—but of that I despair. I sincerely hope your Christmas in Hertfordshire may abound in the gaieties which that season generally brings, and that your beaux will be so numerous as to prevent your feeling the loss of the three of whom we shall deprive you.”
~Pride and Prejudice, Vol 1, Chapter 21, p 83
In Emma, we learn John and Isabella (Woodhouse) Knightley planned a Christmas trip to Hartfield.
It is unfortunate that they cannot stay longer—but it seems a case of necessity. Mr John Knightley must be in town again on the 28th, and we ought to be thankful, papa, that we are to have the whole of the time they can give to the country, that two or three days are not to be taken out for the Abbey. Mr Knightley promises to give up his claim this Christmas—though you know it is longer since they were with him, than with us.
~Emma, Vol 1, p 167.
In Persuasion, we see every facet of a Christmas picture, from the perspectives of its participants. Lady Russell’s final pronouncement is the pièce de résistance.
The Musgroves came back to receive their happy boys and girls from school, bringing with them Mrs Harville’s little children, to improve the noise of Uppercross, and lessen that of Lyme. Henrietta remained with Louisa; but all the rest of the family were again in their usual quarters.
Lady Russell and Anne paid their compliments to them once, when Anne could not but feel that Uppercross was already quite alive again. Though neither Henrietta, nor Louisa, nor Charles Hayter, nor Captain Wentworth were there, the room presented as strong a contrast as could be wished to the last state she had seen it in.
Immediately surrounding Mrs Musgrove were the little Harvilles, whom she was sedulously guarding from the tyranny of the two children from the Cottage, expressly arrived to amuse them. On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard, in spite of all the noise of the others. Charles and Mary also came in, of course, during their visit, and Mr Musgrove made a point of paying his respects to Lady Russell, and sat down close to her for ten minutes, talking with a very raised voice, but from the clamour of the children on his knees, generally in vain. It was a fine family-piece.
Anne, judging from her own temperament, would have deemed such a domestic hurricane a bad restorative of the nerves, which Louisa’s illness must have so greatly shaken. But Mrs Musgrove, who got Anne near her on purpose to thank her most cordially, again and again, for all her attentions to them, concluded a short recapitulation of what she had suffered herself by observing, with a happy glance round the room, that after all she had gone through, nothing was so likely to do her good as a little quiet cheerfulness at home.
Louisa was now recovering apace. Her mother could even think of her being able to join their party at home, before her brothers and sisters went to school again. The Harvilles had promised to come with her and stay at Uppercross, whenever she returned. Captain Wentworth was gone, for the present, to see his brother in Shropshire.
“I hope I shall remember, in future,” said Lady Russell, as soon as they were reseated in the carriage, “not to call at Uppercross in the Christmas holidays.”
Persuasion, Vol 2, Chapter 14
- Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.