One of the best parts of my job is research. I love it. Love to read for hours about past times and places. It’s just so interesting discovering how people lived in the past. It’s really interesting how things that we take for granted as “normal”, traditions that have been around forever, really haven’t been a part of our lives for very long in the grand scheme of things.
Take Christmas trees for example. My first novel, To Trust a Thief, is set in Victorian England. If my main character Min had a Christmas tree in her home, it would have been a very new idea. Something fun that Queen Victoria’s German-born husband Prince Albert had introduced only a few years before Min’s story takes place.
My bandit sisters in the Blood Blade Sisters series would get to experience a variety of customs as their stories take place in three very different locations. The sisters grew up in post-Gold Rush California and Cilla’s story takes place in this setting. Their housekeeper (and surrogate mother) Carmen would have introduced many of her Mexican traditions, including piñatas and pastorelas, where participants act out the Nativity story (often with a great deal of color and humor). These have changed a great deal nowadays, but back when Cilla roamed the trails, the plays would have been a bit more traditional.
Brynne’s story takes place in Boston just before the Civil War. Think Little Women (only a few years prior). The tree would be decked with tiny candles, Christmas presents were becoming more and more prevalent and were usually tucked in among the tree branches that were decked with edible decorations like candied fruits, molasses candy, and berries strung together rather than store bought decorations, and Christmas cards were starting to gain popularity.
Lucy’s story takes place in post Civil War North Carolina. Christmases during the war were understandably lean and the early years afterwards weren’t much better for more people. Instead of large feasts and festive parties, trees decked with presents and yummy treats and stockings full of oranges and molasses candy, most families were lucky to scrape together anything at all or had to make substitutions like replacing the healthy splash of brandy in their eggnog for something a bit cheaper and possibly of the homemade variety.
But the favorites began to make their comebacks, especially the Christmas feast staples of mincemeat pies, eggnog (appropriately liquored up), and plum pudding. None of these sound particularly appealing to me to be honest 🙂 But they were always a huge hit in the 19th century. In my family, we stick with a Christmas ham and oodles of yummy sugar cookies 😀
What are some of your Christmas favorites?