It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas
It’s almost Christmas, and it’s time to dust off the family traditions that we cherish from year to year. Those traditions can take many forms, including what we have for dinner on that festive day, how we exchange our gifts, what decorations go on the tree, and how we deal with annoying relatives who get drunk, fall asleep at the dinner table, or make wildly inappropriate jokes. We stand by our traditions for a reason—because they give us the comfort and joy that is so much a part of the Season.
One tradition for many readers is enjoying the Christmas-themed books that come out at this time of year. There are cookbooks, histories, mysteries and, of course, Christmas-themed romances. Most authors enjoy writing these types of romances, simply because they’re usually fun, warm-hearted, and readers really love them.
I just finished writing my latest Regency-set historical romance, and I’m happy to tell you that it’s a Christmas story. It’s called His Mistletoe Bride, and it will be released in October 2012. I had a great time writing it, partly because I got to research Christmas customs during the Regency era. Much of what we recognize about Christmas didn’t develop until the Victorian period, when Prince Albert brought his German holiday traditions with him to England, although the Christmas tree—usually in a smaller, table-top size—had been part of some English celebrations for a number of years.
And then there was Dickens, who also helped develop the modern version of seasonal celebrations in his famous story, A Christmas Carol.
But the folks in the Regency period also loved Christmas and they celebrated it with style, especially when it came to food and drink. One of the most treasured traditions of the time was the partaking of the Wassail Bowl, a beverage we would recognize today as mulled wine. There were many different recipes for Wassail, each family carefully passing down their particular version from one generation to the next.
Here’s a description from antiquarian Geoffrey Gent, describing one passing of the communal bowl:
“When the cloth was removed, the butler brought in a huge silver vessel of rare and curious workmanship, which he placed before the Squire. Its appearance was hailed with acclimation; being the Wassail Bowl, so renowned in Christmas festivity. The contents had been prepared by the Squire himself; alleging that it was too abstruse and complex for the comprehension of an ordinary servant. It was a potation, indeed, that might well make the heart of a toper leap within him; being composed of the richest and raciest of wines, highly spiced and sweetened, with roasted apples bobbing about the surface.”
Rich and racy—sounds good to me!
I may not have my own family recipe for Wassail, but I do have one of my mother’s old Christmas cookie recipes. When I was a kid these cookies were my favorite, and I still love them. Give them a try—I bet you’ll love them too!
Flora’s Russian Tea Balls
Preheat oven to 300F
1 cup softened butter
¼ cup sifted confectioner’s sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon water
2 cups flour (sifted)
1 cup chopped pecans
Cream together the butter, sugar, and vanilla. Stir in water. Add flour and blend thoroughly. Stir in nuts. Roll dough into 1 inch balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Cool before removing from sheet. Roll in frosting, then flaked coconut (optional).
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
½ cup milk
Vanessa Kelly writes Regency-set historical romance for Kensington Zebra, and has been named by Booklist as “one of the new stars of historical romance.” She recently won the Maggie Award for Best Historical Romance for her second book, Sex And The Single Earl. You can find her on the web at: www.vanessakellyauthor.com.