The Christmas season in the early 1800s was a time of festive balls, dinner parties, and parlor games. This season, the Read House in New Castle presents A Jane Austen Christmas. Jane Austen, author of Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, and Emma, provides us with first-hand accounts of how Christmas was celebrated in Georgian England. At the same time, in America, George Read had just completed building his mansion along the Delaware River. The Reads being a wealthy family were able to celebrate Christmas in the lavish manner described in Jane Austen's novels.
Visitors will enter the front parlor which is ready for a Christmas Ball complete with holly and ivy as well as the traditional spring of mistletoe. During the Christmas holiday, large gatherings of family and friends would entertain themselves with parlor games as visitors will learn when they step into the back parlor of the Read House. Some games like Charades or bobbing for apples are still with us, but others like Snapdragon (shown on right) have long disappeared. To play Snapdragon, each person had to pick currants out of a shallow bowl of flaming brandy using their mouth to extinguish the flame. For obvious reasons this parlor game eventually lost favor.
All the rooms of the house will be decorated to show visitors both the entertaining centers and behind-the-scenes activities of the owners, their children, and the servants. Jane Austen would immediately recognize the preparation of gifts, the choosing of Christmas finery behind closed bedroom doors, and even the winter bathing habits of the well-to-do like Mary Read or Elizabeth Bennett.
In the Read House kitchen, visitors will learn how the fine family parties affected their servants. With so many guest visiting the house, the kitchen was always abuzz with activity, leaving servants little time to enjoy the holidays. From preparing large feasts and special desserts like Twelfth Night cake to increased laundry and housework, a servant's day began before dawn and lasted long into the night.