Christmas Around The World

Diary, Reminiscences and Correspondence Volume1 by Henry Crabb Robinson and edited by Thomas Sadler(Archers fellow-sufferers: this is not an hommage to Lynda Snell’s Ambridge Christmas cabaret. Baffled other readers, begin here.)

A large number of our books are either edited diaries or journals, or derived from journal material. I thought it would be interesting to see where some of our authors were, and what they were doing, on 25 December…

1616: ‘Our 2 shipps, Thomas and Adviz, shot of each one 9 peces of ordinance at son rising, in honor of Christmas Day. And Andrea Dittis sent me a present of 2 peces black taffeties and 10 greate China cakes of sweete bread.’ – Richard Cocks, in the ‘English factory’ in Japan

1689: ‘The 25th, the bishop of Salisbury preached before their majesties at Whitehall; and after, both of them received the sacrament.’ – Narcissus Luttrell, in London

1745: ‘The Indians having been used upon Christmas-days to drink and revel among some of the white people in these parts, I thought it proper this day to call them together, and discourse to them upon divine things; which I accordingly did from the Parable of the Barren Fig-tree, Luke xiii. 6–9.’ – David Brainerd’s journal, among the Native Americans

1768:  ‘Christmas Day: all good Christians, that is to say, all good hands, got abominably drunk, so that all through the night there was scarce a sober man in the ship. Weather, thank God, very moderate, or the Lord knows what would have become of us. ‘ – Sir Joseph Banks, between Rio de Janeiro and Tierra del Fuego

1793: ‘The 25th (Christmas day), most of the troops embarked on board the Lion at Whampoo, his Lordship reserving only a part of the royal artillery to do duty over him.’ – Samuel Holmes, of the Light Dragoons, accompanying Earl Macartney’s embassy to China

1812: ‘The government and Cortes have done me the honour to confer upon me the command of the Spanish armies…’ ­– The Duke of Wellington, in Cadiz

1819: ‘Christmas Day. I spent this festival not in feasting, but very agreeably, for, like a child, I was delighted in contemplating a new toy. I was the whole forenoon occupied … in collecting books, &c., in my old, and in arranging them in my new, chambers. The putting in order is a delightful occupation, and is at least analogous to virtue.’ – Henry Crabbe Robinson, in King’s Bench Walk, London

1831: ‘Ribs and thawrts [sic] were necessary to distend the canvass boats … The weather was excessively hot, and the men worked hard at the saw-pit notwithstanding, but all our activity was in danger of being fruitless, for the river each day fell about four inches!’ – T.L. Mitchell, in the bush, eastern Australia

1837: ‘M, G and I went to little St Mary’s & heard the whole duty performed by Mr Ray … Lucy & Edwd went to Trinity Church: she was unfortunate enough to hear the whole duty performed by Mr Hose.’ – Joseph Romilly, in Cambridge

1841: ‘A dismal Christmas-day, and our situation far from cheering.’ Lady Sale in Kabul, Afghanistan, under siege and about to be taken hostage

1851: ‘A very fine, calm, mild day throughout. It passed off very quietly, in a manner indeed that our friends in England would, I fear, consider decidedly flat. Great preparations had been made for a shooting match to celebrate the day; but the darkness was so great that to avoid the risk of shooting each other, the match had to be put off. A game at foot-ball was accordingly substituted.’ – William Kennedy, in the Arctic Circle, searching for Sir John Franklin’s expedition

1857: ‘As soon as it was morning, preparations were made for the celebration of Christmas … At the proper hour – about a quarter past ten A.M. – we had service, when I read the Twenty-fourth Homily, on the Nativity and Birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and I doubt not we were all profited by it: it brought us nearer to the multitudes of pious worshippers who kept this holy day, especially this merry season, in which we celebrate the birth of Christ.’ Samuel Crowther, missionary on the banks of the Niger

1858: ‘The whole camp turned out this morning to look at the Snowy Range, which is certainly the grandest object I have ever seen, as it appears from the plains of Oude, towering above the giant mountains of Nepaul. Some of the officers took some angles and compass bearings, and made us believe that we saw Dwalaghiri; others maintained that they could see Mount Everest, hundreds of miles away…’ W.H. Russell, embedded with the troops while covering the Indian Mutiny for The Times

1870: ‘With such great distress prevailing – when Madame Hamelin, the widow of a former French Ambassador to Constantinople, was found dead in her bed at Belleville, the victim of cold and starvation, when a thousand of our own compatriots were dependent on the British Charitable Fund for relief – how could Christmastide be merry?’ – Henry Vizetelly, in peril in besieged Paris

1878: ‘ We could not mange any holly, but we had carefully preserved one bough of mistletoe from Artaki Bay, and had brought in board at Malta baskets full of flowers, so that all the pictures, lamps, and even the walls, were wreathed with festoons of bougainvillaea…’ Annie Brassey, at sea off Malta

1898: ‘My correspondence today contains a letter from that rare person, an agricultural enthusiast. This gentleman, who is earning a very handsome salary in an office, proposes to abandon it in order to commence farming, apparently on borrowed capital. And what, my reader, do you suppose has led him to his resolve? … the teachings of Carlyle and Ruskin. If a study of these leaders of thought tends to such amiable insanity, which I confess has never struck me in reading them, surely as far as the young are concerned, they should be placed upon the Index Expurgatorius.’ H. Rider Haggard, at home in Ditchingham, with an interesting reminder that the post used to be delivered on Christmas Day

And finally, the Christmas 1860 number of All The Year Round contains chapters 6 and 7 of Great Expectations. At the end, Pip, washed and scrubbed and dressed up, is being handed over to Mr Pumblechook for delivery to Miss Havisham of Satis House, and wondering ‘why on earth I was going to play at Miss Havisham’s, and what on earth I was expected to play at’.

And a very merry Christmas to all our readers!


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