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|Children and Christmas
Written by BarbaraB
(5/3/2010 4:36 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, The Gardiners' Children, penned by Cheryl
"This line indicates that the Gardiners' children must not have accompanied them on their recent Christmas visit to the Bennet's. This has caused some puzzlement to readers and commentators, but in fact Christmas was not as significant a holiday then as now: it had declined in importance in England in the seventeenth century, partly under the influence of Puritanism, and would only become a major celebration again during the middle and late nineteenth century, when many of our current Christmas traditions, including the aspects most pertinent to children, were developed or made popular. During this period it was mostly an occasion for feasting and parties, and these gatherings often involved only adults. Thus by the standards of the time the Gardiners would not be unusual or negligent in having left their children behind in London, where they would be cared for by servants."
This information is similar to what Stephanie posted. Some years ago we did a group read on a book called, Jane Austen's Christmas (The Festive Season in Georgian England, Maria Hubert) so I pulled that out and flipped through it to see what I might happen upon.
While the holidays were apparently mostly adult oriented, children participated in some activities and amusements. Fanny Knight corresponded with her ex-governess for years and the book includes some letters from different Christmases which mention the children going to the servants' hall to sing carols on Christmas and were excited that they would be allowed to join the grownups for Christmas dinner. She speaks of plays which it seems, if I have matched up the names correctly, that she and her siblings, some still very young participated in plays and games such as Snapdragon and bobbing for apples.
Washington Irving in his Sketchbook of 1810 "noted many elements of British social life and culture, written as an American travelling through Britain...The Christmas notes are so accurate that it has become one of our greatest reference works for the study of Georgian Christmas." He seems to have stayed with a squire for the holidays and cites how on Christmas morning, "I heard the sound of little feet pattering outside of the door and a whispering consultation. Presently a choir of small voices chanted forth an old Christmas carol..."
Another thing the book mentions is the Grand Christmas Ball also referred to as the Children's Ball or Family Ball:
Jane to Cassandra 1808-- "I was happy to hear, chiefly for Anne's sake, that a ball at Manydown was once more in agitation; it is called the child's ball..." and from a diary of the country parson William Holland 1815--"In the afternoon we had a famous ball where children were admitted, the Christmas Ball. My wife and I and two children went..."
I haven't looked in this book in years but strangely, I find it much more interesting now than I did when we were discussing it. I guess I've become far more interested in background information and historical context. :)
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