Simanaitis Says

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A VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS WITH SHERLOCK HOLMES

SHERLOCK HOLMES and his chronicler Dr. John H. Watson shared Christmastime in “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” This holiday quest involved a  jewel sequestered within a Christmas goose. Sherlockian Christopher Morley gave the tale high praise as “a Christmas Story without slush.”

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A holiday goose played a role in “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” Image by Sidney Paget from the Strand Magazine, January, 1892.

From Watson’s tale and with a little research, I learned that many of our Christmas traditions originated in Victorian England. At the beginning of the 19th century, businesses hardly celebrated Christmas Day. (Ebenezer Scrooge’s view: “a poor excuse every 25th December to pick a man’s pockets.”) However, Victoria’s ascension to the throne in 1837 and, especially, her marriage to Prince Albert in 1841 encouraged new British holiday traditions.

Among these traditions was the German Tannenbaum, popularized through an 1850 tinted etching of a decorated Christmas tree at Windsor Castle.

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Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children at Christmastime.

There were a variety of Ur-Santas, including the Dutch St. Nick, the German Kris Kringle and England’s Father Christmas.

In Victorian England, Father Christmas wore forest green, perhaps as a forerunner of spring.

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Father Christmas, as seen in England during Victorian times.

Clement Moore’s “A Visit From St. Nicholas” portrayed him as “dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot.” It wasn’t until 1881 that artist Thomas Nast depicted him in red.

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Santa Claus, by Thomas Nast, Harper’s Weekly, c. 1881.

The Christmas feast in Victorian times might have had a turkey or goose as a main course, but with plenty of other offerings. Indeed, among those able to afford it, Victorian menus were more than ample.

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Perhaps not everyone dined quite so splendidly (or en français. with one German bit).

Another authentic Victorian Christmas feast is detailed at http://goo.gl/e7Ffmo. Jessica Jewett offers recipes for everything from Hot Brandy and Rum Punch through Oyster Soup to Father Christmas Shortbread, all derived from Victorian cookbooks.

BBC Two has proposed making your own Victorian Christmas with “25 Activities to Do at Home,” http://goo.gl/FGgG6K. The activities include making Victorian food and drink, decorations and Christmas Crackers (sweets and little gifts wrapped in tissue paper, with snaps that provide excitement upon opening).

And if one’s reading tastes seek holiday tales of Sherlock Holmes, there are non-Canonical (but suitably rendered) stories collected in Holmes for the Holidays.

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Holmes for the Holidays edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Jon L. Lellemberg and Carol-Lynn Waugh, authorized by Dame Jean Conan Doyle, Berkley Prime Crime, 1996.

The culinary tastes of Holmes and Watson are well documented. (See “Dining with Holmes,” http://wp.me/p2ETap-1EP.) Their holiday meal would have likely included Mince Pie and Christmas Pudding. Recipes for both are contained in the Sherlock Holmes Cookbook.

It was important for Victorians to show mercy and love of the needy at Christmastime. An example of this remains today in Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. Originally it was a time to offer gifts to those “below stairs,” typically given the day off after the arduous work of attending to the Christmas feast.

Of course, those “above stairs” had to fend for themselves on Boxing Day, with an interesting culinary byproduct: sausage rolls, typically served at room temperature, augmenting the leftovers.

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Boxing Day Sausage Rolls. Image by Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times, December 20, 2014.

These savories appear from time to time in later English settings, including the Paul Temple mysteries (See “My Favorite English Detective,” http://wp.me/p2ETap-22W.) Boxing Day Sausage Rolls also made The New York Times; see http://goo.gl/0uAPg3.

The English city of Portsmouth, on the English Channel 80 miles southwest of London, is home to a Victorian Festival of Christmas, traditionally held the last weekend of November. Videos (see, for example, http://goo.gl/XbjLMv) show a merry time being had by all.

Have a Joyous Christmas too. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014

2 comments on “A VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS WITH SHERLOCK HOLMES

  1. Bill Rabel
    December 24, 2014

    Dennis –
    A pencil notation on the Queen’s menu notes “State Visit of German Emperor”. This might explain the ‘one German bit’.

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