Romantic Midwinter Festivals

With New Year’s Day behind us, the holiday season may seem to be over… but the great Romanticism-inspired festivals of the bleak midwinter are just beginning. With its plethora of anniversaries, birthdays, saints’ days, and bicentennials, January offers many occasions to host scholarly-themed celebrations that will brighten up your new semester! Below is a sampler of top hits:

2015: Celebrate Artistic Bicentennials with This Reading List

Wordsworth, Collected Poems and The White Doe of Rylstone
Scott, Guy Mannering
Austen, Emma
Peacock, Headlong Hall
Byron, Hebrew Melodies
Shelley, Alastor (written 1815; published Feb. 1816)
Malthus, An Inquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent
Schubert, Der Erlkönig
Grimm’s Fairy Tales, vol. 2

January 2: Lord and Lady Byron’s 200th Wedding Anniversary

Mark this somber day by using your computer — the Byrons’ marriage produced the early programmer Ada Lovelace — while meditating on an event that was otherwise Byron’s great mistake. His fiancée, Annabella Milbanke, had rejected his first proposal, and he contemplated breaking off the engagement just days before he went through with the marriage at Seaham, Annabella’s family home in Durham. Within hours, as they ventured off to celebrate a “treacle-moon,” Byron told Annabella that he regretted the marriage, and he wrote to his confidante (and Annabella’s aunt) Lady Melbourne, “I got a wife and a cold on the same day.”

January 20: The Eve of St Agnes

Celebrate the patron saint of virgins and young girls by hosting a reading of Keats and Tennyson‘s poetic commemorations of the Eve of St Agnes. Having “limped trembling through the frozen grass” to your place of residence, your guests can enjoy a dramatic reading of Madeline’s seduction, while dining on “cates and dainties” like “candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd,  jellies smoother than the creamy curd,  lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon; manna and dates, and spiced dainties,” all beautifully presented “on golden dishes.” Later, follow Keats’s instructions and perform the folk ritual of the Eve of St Agnes to divine the identity of your future husband.

January 22: Byron’s Birthday

As his letters reveal, Byron was a devoted celebrant of his own birthday, a date of which he repeatedly reminds his friends and publishers. His birthday even enters into art: the dedications in his 1815-1816 volumes of his Collected Poems are (without exception) dated January 22. And, though he’s not 236 years old just yet, read On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year to get the full bittersweet flavour of a Byronic birthday.

January 25: Burns Night

Participate in a tradition more than two centuries old by hosting a Burns Supper. Every year since Roberts Burns’ death in 1796, the poet’s followers have commemorated his birthday (January 25, 1759) with a celebratory dinner that involves Scotch whisky, piping in a haggis, and, of course, poetry reading. Key texts include the Selkirk Grace, Address to a Haggis, a toast to the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns, and poems like To a Louse, To a Mouse, and Tam O’Shanter. Finish your evening with a rousing chorus of Auld Lang Syne. For specific details on the déroulement of Burns Night,  be sure to consult a reputable source. And consider combining Burns Night with Chinese New Year for a celebration of Gung Haggis Fat Choy (which takes place this year on February 8th).

Finally, you can look forward to more bicentennials coming up in the next six months:

February 3: 200th Anniversary of Leigh Hunt’s Release from Prison

Use this occasion to redecorate your home in the spirit of Hunt’s locus amoenus-inspired prison cell, and read Keats’s poem commemorating this important occasion for his mentor.

June 18: Read about the Battle of Waterloo in literature

Thackeray, Vanity Fair
Byron, Childe Harold, Canto 3
Southey, The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo
Stendhal, La Chartreuse de Parme

Happy 2015, from all of us at the NASSR Graduate Student Caucus!