The oldest extended description of Christmas in fiction that I have read is in Washington Irving’s Sketch-Book (1819), which describes a classic English Christmas:
There was now a pause, as if something was expected; when suddenly the butler entered the hall with some degree of bustle: he was attended by a servant on each side with a large wax-light, and bore a silver dish, on which was an enormous pig’s head, decorated with rosemary, with a lemon in its mouth, which was placed with great formality at the head of the table. The moment this pageant made its appearance, the harper struck up a flourish… (“The Christmas Dinner”)
The running joke, despite all of those servants and the harper, is that the country squire laments that he is overseeing the decline of the great English tradition – that the pig should be a boar, that the pheasant pie should be a (vile, inedible) peacock pie. How sad for him; how lucky for Irving.
One clever serial number of Anthony Trollope’s Orley Farm (1861-2) contains four Christmas chapters that sweep up all of the novel’s plotlines and characters. “Christmas at Noningsby,” full of jolly games (see the Millais illustration to the left), or “Christmas in Great St. Helens,” where is uttered that great line about a roast turkey tasting “[l]ike melted diamonds.” An all-time champion 19th century fictional food scene.
The characters in the previous chapter, “Christmas at Groby Park,” are not so lucky, since the lady of the house is a cheapskate and a hoarder, keeping food in her own room that she denies to her family and guests:
And over and beyond the beef there was a plum-pudding and three mince-pies. Four mince-pies had originally graced the dish, but before dinner one had been conveyed away to some up stairs receptacle for such spoils. The pudding also was small, nor was it black and rich, and laden with good things as a Christmas pudding should be laden. Let us hope that what the guests so lost was made up to them on the following day, by an absence of those ill effects which sometimes attend upon the consumption of rich viands.
"And now, my dear, we'll have a bit of bread and cheese and a glass of beer," Mr. Green said when he arrived at his own cottage. And so it was that Christmas-day was passed at Groby Park.
That’s the spirit, Mr. Green.
The Moomins, who are Finnish and apparently pagan, prepare “juice and yogurt and blueberry pie and eggnog” the one time they are accidentally awakened at Christmastime from their usual winter hibernation.
“At least I am not afraid of Christmas anymore,” Moomintroll said.
From “The Fir Tree,” Tales of Moominvalley (1962) by Tove Jansson. Well said, Moomintroll.
Wuthering Expectations is about to enter its own Christmas hibernation. It will awaken on January 2nd if I have recovered from those ill effects alluded to above.
Merry Christmas; happy New Year!