Christmas in Wellington's Army
During the Napoleonic Wars, the British army fighting the French in Spain and Portugal spent six Christmases away from home, 1808-13. That first year there was little holiday cheer to be found. The army was fighting to survive, retreating through the wintry mountains. But most of their Christmases were spent in the relative peace and comfort of winter quarters, where homesick soldiers could try to replicate a traditional English celebration.
In the Regency era, that chiefly meant a feast. Much of what we now think of as a traditional Christmas actually dates to the Victorian era—Christmas trees (in England and America—they were already traditional in Germany), Christmas cards, Santa Claus/Father Christmas, Christmas crackers, and even gift giving on a major scale.
But the Christmas dinners Wellington's officers enjoyed should sound familiar—roast beef, turkey, plum pudding, mince pies, and punch, followed by toasts to absent friends, the king, the navy, Lord Wellington, and other notables. Common soldiers didn't fare as well as the officers, but their commanders tried to ensure they had better than average dinners for Christmas and again a week later at the new year.
And there were a few Christmas trees in Wellington's army—just not put up by British soldiers. Because the King of England was also the Elector of Hanover (a territory in present-day Germany), there were also Hanoverian soldiers in the army. When they could, they followed German customs and improvised Christmas trees, such as lemon trees decorated with oranges and candles. In Christmas Past, my 21st-century heroine Sydney sees such a tree and loves it even though compared to what she had back home in 2013 it's a total Charlie Brown tree.
Just as in later wars, officers counted on friends at home to supply them with treats and luxuries. Not only during the holidays but around the year, friends and family back in Britain sent treats--not usually sweets, but ham, tongues, pickles, cheese, venison, and the like. Home comforts made Christmas at war easier to bear.
Have you ever been far from home for the holidays? What would you do to remind yourself of home?
(In preparing this post, I'm indebted to Life in Wellington's Army, by Antony Brett-James, one of my go-to research sources.)
Entangled Ever After
Release Date: November 25, 2013
Time-traveling PhD student Sydney Dahlquist’s first mission sounded simple enough—spend two weeks in December 1810 collecting blood samples from the sick and wounded of Wellington’s army, then go home to modern-day Seattle and Christmas with her family. But when her time machine breaks, stranding her in the past, she must decide whether to sacrifice herself to protect the timeline or to build a new life—and embrace a new love—two centuries before her time.
Rifle captain Miles Griffin has been fascinated by the tall, beautiful “Mrs. Sydney” from the day he met her caring for wounded soldiers. When he stumbles upon her time travel secret on Christmas Eve, he vows to do whatever it takes to seduce her into making her home in his present—by his side.
About the Author:
Susanna Fraser wrote her first novel in fourth grade. It starred a family of talking horses who ruled a magical land. In high school she started, but never finished, a succession of tales of girls who were just like her, only with long, naturally curly and often unusually colored hair, who, perhaps because of the hair, had much greater success with boys than she ever did.
Along the way she read her hometown library’s entire collection of Regency romance, fell in love with the works of Jane Austen, and discovered in Patrick O’Brian’s and Bernard Cornwell’s novels another side of the opening decades of the 19th century. When she started to write again as an adult, she knew exactly where she wanted to set her books. Her writing has come a long way from her youthful efforts, but she still gives her heroines great hair.
Susanna grew up in rural Alabama. After high school she left home for the University of Pennsylvania and has been a city girl ever since. She worked in England for a year after college, using her days off to explore history from ancient stone circles to Jane Austen’s Bath.
Susanna lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and daughter. When not writing or reading, she goes to baseball games, sings alto in a local choir and watches cooking competition shows.
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