Friday, December 20, 2013

I wish you all an absence of those ill effects which sometimes attend upon the consumption of rich viands.

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!


  1. A very merry festive season to you too - may your table be better-stocked than the one at Groby Park ;)

  2. Thank you, you too! My pudding will if anything be over-stuffed,

  3. And Season's Greetings to you!

  4. Merry Christmas, Tom, and Happy new year!

  5. Wishing you a very happy Christmas Tom

  6. It has been a while since I read The Sketchbook but I remember that passage well. It really all went down the drain when pig was substituted for boar!

    Have a Merry Christmas Tom!

  7. I looked for the Christmas dinner in Trollope's Gangoil Christmas book, trying to remember if it was something spectacular, but instead it's old sheep and and then everybody schickered on the verandah. ("But the same guests shall be merry as the evening is long with a leg of mutton and whisky toddy, and will change their own plates, and clear their own table, and think nothing wrong, if from the beginning such has been the intention of the giver of the feast. In spite of Mrs. Growler's prognostications, though the cook had absconded, and the chief guest of the occasion could not cut up his own meat, that Christmas dinner at Gangoil was eaten with great satisfaction.") Merry Christmas.

  8. Merry Christmas, Tom!

  9. It seems possible that Can You Forgive Her? is building to a Christmas scene, too. I hope so.

    Thanks for all the holiday wishes - happy holidays to all of you, too!

  10. And a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours!

  11. Peacock pie! Flannery O'Connor would have been horrified!

    BTW . . . and belatedly . . . Merry Christmas!

  12. That peacock pie was a medieval staple at the holidays. Yuck.