When I start thinking about the Christmas traditions at my house, I realize that a lot of Christmas revolves around food.
When I was younger, my mom and I would make Christmas cookies from my cousin Ginger’s recipe. We always used special copper cookie cutters—a star, a Christmas tree, a Santa, and a reindeer—that I still have today. We would also make a Christmas tree cake, using a tree shaped pan, green icing, and red candies for the decorations.
We also had a special breakfast Christmas morning: ham biscuits with mustard eaten under the Christmas tree as I unwrapped my gifts. I continue that tradition today, except we’ve also added my husband’s tradition of having oyster stew as well. I’m a convert!
My children also started a food tradition of their own. One year my husband and I had a How to Host a Murder party near Christmas (the theme was Twelfth Night and English). I served Cornish game hens with a wild rice stuffing. There were leftovers and my girls got to eat some of it the next day, which had a profound effect upon them. They proclaimed they wanted “little chickens with rice up the butt” for Christmas dinner. I’ve been serving it for our Christmas dinner ever since.
When writing my Regency Christmas novella, A Kiss Beneath the Mistletoe, I decided that food should play a special part in the main family’s celebrations as well. So I begin the story with a birthday celebration in early December. The heroine, Jenny Crowley, is being served her very favorite dessert—trifle—when a major interruption puts a damper on the party and sends Jenny into a tailspin.
Dishes of trifle finally sat at each place. Jenny itched to pick up her spoon. She could taste the berries and cream even now. She glanced at her father, who at last smiled and nodded.
“So, Charles, when is the wedding to take place?” Great-Aunt Henrietta trumpeted the question from her place at the mid-point of the table, her spoon already busy with her dessert.
Odd, but no more so than her great-aunt’s question. Whose wedding was she talking about?
“Yes, Charles. Jenny’s wedding to young Alexander here.” Her great-aunt nodded across the table to Alexander Isley, who sat up abruptly, staring at her aunt with wide eyes, as though he thought the old lady quite mad.
Jenny thought so herself. A prickly sensation began at the back of her neck. She shot Alec a quick look. No, his face wore an expression of outright confusion, his brows knit over his sky blue eyes.
“She’s eighteen now, and you promised me when she was of age I’d see her married into the Isley family. I have lived for the day that I could announce to the world that one of my family had moved into the titled class.” She glared at Mama, who blushed and turned to Jenny.
“It’s not as bad as it sounds, Jenny darling,” Mama said, patting her hand.
That might have reassured Jenny, except her mother’s wide, staring eyes said yes, it was that bad. Maybe worse. Her heart began to pound and the sweet trifle turned sour in her mouth.
“Not bad?” Great-Aunt Henrietta swung her gaze to Jenny and fixed her with a cold black-eyed stare. “You should be grateful, girl. Your parents and I have arranged for you to take your place in society, as a titled lady in due time.”
“It’s not true, is it, Mama?” Jenny could barely choke out the words in a voice that didn’t sound like her own at all. Too high, too soft. A peculiar roaring in her ears made her head light.
“Yes, my dear, it most certainly is.” Great-Aunt Henrietta nodded with such vehemence that the feathers on her green velvet turban bobbed back and forth. “When your mother refused to marry up, I swore none of your family would ever see a penny of my money. Then when you were born, she came to me, begged me to reconsider, and promised that you had already been betrothed to the Isley heir here,” she said, pointing an imperious finger at Alec who looked like he might dive under the table. “She showed me the betrothal papers.”
Everyone at table sat in stunned silence. Jenny looked down at her hands, clasped together so tightly her knuckles showed white. All her dreams of excitement and romance during her season had just exploded in the blink of an eye. Then the real import of her great-aunt’s words sank in and her stomach twisted. They expected her to marry Alec?
In fact, food is mentioned constantly at the Christmas house party Jenny ends up attending, showing that food during the Regency has traditions just like ours do today.