Historical Christmases

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.

TTaTTake 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.New (2)

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 New (1)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.New

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?



Follow Michelle McLean:

Michelle McLean is a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl who is addicted to chocolate and Goldfish crackers and spent most of her formative years with her nose in a book. She has a B.S. in History, a M.A. in English, and a knack for explaining complicated things to uncomplicated people. Michelle's non-fiction works include guides on how to write essays, term papers, literary analysis essays, and poetry. She also writes romance with a good dose of mystery and humor, historicals, and a paranormal here and there. When Michelle's not editing, reading or chasing her kids around, she can usually be found in a quiet corner working on her next book. She resides in PA with her husband and two children, an insanely hyper dog, and three very spoiled cats.

7 Responses

  1. Barbara Monajem

    I love mince pies. Also a Canadian specialty, butter tarts, which my mother used to make at Christmas.

  2. Alyssa Alexander

    Every year is a bit different for us, depending on where we are. At my Grandma Vi’s it was turkey. At my Grandma Louise’s it was sloppy joes and my favorite fruit salad. At my MIL’s everyone gets to pick their favorite dish. At my mother’s it’s spaghetti (my fav!!!). At my house this year it’s steak!

    • Michelle McLean

      At my grandmother’s we did clam chowder (or chicken noodle soup for us picky kids) on Christmas Eve after going out to see Christmas lights 😀 My hubs really liked that idea so he’s been making clam chowder for Christmas Eve the last several years 🙂

  3. Karen

    I have an English born Mum. So mincemeat pies, eggnog, and plum pudding are foods shared during the holidays. Add Christmas crackers along with our American traditions and we have a fantastic Christmas.