Sarah Beeny’s “Great British Christmas”

December 8, 2013 at 1:51 pm (entertainment, europe, history, jane austen) (, , , , , )


It was with great anticipation, after hearing this show was to be broadcast this past Monday, that I searched online for “A Great British Christmas, with Sarah Beeny” (originally broadcast on UK’s Channel 4). I don’t know why, but I really believed this was a multi-part series, with the first “hour” dedicated to a Georgian Christmas. I so hankered for knowledge of what exactly “Georgian” Christmas rites and festivities were!

(I kept seeing “Series 1 – Episode 1,” which does make it sound like a lengthy “series”….)

My mistake; the 46-minute, single episode rushes through the Georgians to firmly trot onto the Victorian’s well-trod ground of family, children, toys, and trees. I’m afraid I stopped there, and by the time I got back to watching this particular link had disappeared…. So I missed out on the rest of the Victorian era (if much more remained), as well as all the “war-time” era and whatever of “today” was shown.

[NB: If you see any “video” at the end of my posts, those are WordPress Ads… I’ll try to make a concerted effort to have text and not a photo at the end]

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The show starts off with a lengthy introduction: the rehab project by Beeny and her husband at their Yorkshire property, Rise Hall. Channel 4 “advertises” that a show exists on this rehab project, so, given the length (and the focus) of this Christmas special, less would have been more (dare I use the word “padding”?): however, I’d LOVE to find Rise Hall’s “Restoration Nightmare” online… Will have to look.

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A useful segment on the Kissing Ball — still not sure if this was called a Kissing Bowl or Kissing Bough instead (rather like “Rise” Hall, I would have turned on closed-captioning if I’d been watching this on TV). Was it really only hung “downstairs”? LOVED that when you kissed you plucked off a Mistletoe Berry. And who knew that in churches (only in Britain?) Mistletoe is verboten – except at York Minster!

This is a pretty display; it rather looks, with its candles, very Advent Wreath-like to me (ah, those Germans… already!?)

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This makes me think of my childhood; not because _we_ had a fireplace, but because WPIX in New York City went off-air (can you imagine such a thing nowadays!) and the only picture on the TV was a burning Yule Log.

There was something about your Yule log lasting till Twelfth Night – but as my link isn’t working, I can’t go back and listen to this section of the show. HUGE log hauled in here; LOVE the fruit and cinnamon sticks!! What a scent they must have sent into the air.

It was here however that I rather wondered: who wrote Beeny’s script? Was there a researcher who plucked out of letters, diaries, whathaveyou the very “rites” of the Festive Season I was craving to learn about? Or, was there some secondary book on, say, Regency Christmases, that — right or wrong — was followed.

There is a book out there (which I confess I’ve never seen in the flesh) that may serve as the basis for an online LIST of GIFTS received by my Emma, used to conclude that large gift-exchanges occurred at this date. Trouble is, I’ve seen mention of items from this list: I suspect it’s Emma’s list of BIRTHDAY gifts (HRO did call them both; but I’m not sure); and one year it’s gifts bought by Charles Joshua Smith (her eldest brother) while on his Grand Tour.

I made one brief note at this point, and can’t relisten: there was talk of attending Church twice. This given as “proof” of the Georgian era’s “piety.” Trouble is, they ALWAYS (horrid weather permitting) went to Church twice on Sundays!

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On to food then – with this woman, whose name I did not note at the time. Now, _I_ (fussy eater that I am, and not a great lover of meat either) wouldn’t want to eat much of what was on offer either, but “been there before” with the turned-up noses and snide comments. Amanda Vickery’s Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice  “Netherfield” Ball special also had a culinary historian chief; that was, as I recall, quite informative. Pity that route wasn’t taken here.

But then, we were pressed for time, weren’t we…

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One “game” was discussed: that of plucking out raisins (were they?) from a flaming bowl. But my attention was caught instead by the Christmas Cake, and the short discussion of King / Queen for the Day. There is a delightful segment in the Letters of Abigail Adams (yes, Mrs John Adams, later President of the United States), when the couple was resident in Paris. Talk of “No Bean – No Queen,” which I remember to this day. John, alas, does not come off well in his wife’s tale!

I’ll see if I can hunt up an online version of this letter (one of my favorites!); written to her sister, it is not at the major site of Adams correspondence.

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Must confess to being rather disappointed. Of course the link I used to watch half thursday night was down by yesterday. A few comments of the “rude” Georgians and their kissing ball (bowl? bough? not sure what she said!), few more about their “crude” food and “rude” adult games (those flaming bowls). Then it was on to toys and kiddies, trees and “traditional” Xmas.

I will try to post about the “Christmas” I have found via the Smith-Gosling family – but, like many things, what they took for granted they did not always expressly comment about.

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2 Comments

  1. Sabine said,

    Thank you very much for the hint. I will definately watch this on a quiet moment with a steaming tea, some Christmas Stollen, while it’s getting very chilly outside :)

    • Janeite Kelly said,

      Hi, Sabine — I’ve not tried to find it online again; keep looking! Very well-done, with costumes and ‘re-enactments’. Will have to finish it off myself… One viewer thought Beeny might only have been given the one episode, and therefore had to cram in as much as possible.

      k

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