How to throw your own Jane Austen holiday party

Have you ever wanted to throw your own Jane Austen themed holiday party? Here are some ideas to get you started!

Decorations

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“Christmas Weather” by George Allen, 1898. 

Holiday decorations looked very different in Jane Austen’s time. Christmas, although an important holiday, was not as big a deal as it is today. Most adults in England at that time observed Christmas by going to church and often giving to charity. If you are looking to be historically accurate with your own decorations, put some greenery (holly branches or laurels) on your window ledges and call it a day. Christmas trees may have been popular in Germany at this time, but they would not have been seen in England until later in the 19th century.

Parties during the Regency would have also called for candles. In the days before electricity, any lighting at an evening party would depend upon them. As the candles ran out, the party, too, would end. Naturally, if you wanted your party to last a long time, you’d get larger candles. Today, you can use electric candles as a precaution against fire hazards.

Activities

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“Hunt the Slipper” by Francesco Bartolozzi, 1787

While Christmas may have been a solemn, pious event for many adults, children still celebrated with games and festivities. In Claire Tomalin’s “Jane Austen: A Life,” she lists many of the games and songs that would have been popular at Christmas at Godmersham, the home of Jane’s wealthy brother Edward.

In one game, Hunt the Slipper, players form a circle on the floor on their bottoms with their knees up. A slipper would be passed around the circle under players’ knees in any direction while the hunter goes around the outside of the circle and attempts to guess who has the slipper. For your party, you can substitute a bean bag or a prize for the winner if you do not have a slipper.

Cards, battledore and shuttlecock, bullet pudding and other parlor games can bring an element of authenticity to your party. For a comprehensive list of such games, check out the Jane Austen Center website

Food

Every good party needs food. According to Roy and Lesley Adkins, in their book “Jane Austen’s England,” a Christmas feast would feature plum pudding and mince meat pies. Despite its name, mince meat pies do not actually contain meat — but instead feature dried fruit and spices. You can find several recipes for each on the Internet. If you are looking to fill out your menu with a few more items, roast beef would have been a popular choice for the gentry and for the truly adventurous cook, Yorkshire pudding is very British indeed!

Music

If you are lucky enough to play an instrument or enjoy singing before a crowd, you may consider making your own music for your party. Be sure to make copies of the lyrics if you intend for your guests to join in any caroling. If, however, you would rather just have music in the background at your party, consider playing the works of Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and other famous composers who would have been popular during Jane’s lifetime.

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“Long ways dance caricature” Thomas Rowlandson, circa 1790

Dance

What Regency gathering would be complete without dancing? There is so much to write about dancing that it deserves its own blog entry, but for your holiday party here is a simple dance game you can play with your guests!

First, select a caller who will be in charge of the music. While the music plays, you may walk in a circle, free dance or even attempt an actual Regency-era dance depending on what you think your guests can handle.

The caller will then stop the music at random times and shout out the name of a Jane Austen novel and then all the dancers must scramble to create poses for whichever novel has been called.

“Sense and Sensibility”

Oh no! Marianne fell down! One person in a set of three will sit on the floor with their legs out while the other two will hold their hands as if to help them up. (Pose requires three people)

“Pride and Prejudice”

Mr. Darcy does not find Elizabeth handsome enough at their first meeting. One person in a pair will sit in a chair while the other will stand turning their back to the person in the chair. (Pose requires two people)

“Mansfield Park”

Fanny is stuck in the middle of a scandalous performance. Two people will make kissy faces at each other while one more looks shocked at them. (Pose requires three people).

“Emma”

Emma is painting a portrait of her friend Harriet. One person will pose for the painting while the other pretends to paint them. (Pose requires two people)

“Northanger Abbey”

You have just discovered a secret laundry list. Look scared. (Pose requires only one person)

“Persuasion”

Captain Wentworth is writing a secret letter while Anne and Harville talk. One person will sit down to write a letter while the other two pretend to have a conversation. (Pose requires three people.)

If you have an especially large crowd to play such a game, you can challenge your guests to find different partners each time.

If you do end up using any of these ideas, please send us pictures of your Jane Austen themed party and we will see you all in June!

About Robin Floyd

Robin K Floyd works as an educator at Wake County Public Schools. In her spare time she enjoys learning about literature, history, and fashion. Her favorite Jane Austen novel is Northanger Abbey, closely followed by everything else!

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