How Christmas Was Celebrated in the Middle Ages

How Christmas Was Celebrated in the Middle Ages: In the days before Santa Claus was born, caroling and strewn with Christmas lights, The people of medieval Europe celebrated Christmas with 12 days of festivities and feasting that culminated with Twelfth Night and the loud ceremony to crown a “King of Misrule.”

The Christmas season during the Middle Ages was preceded by the long fast of Advent in which Christians were opposed to rich foods and indulgence. The festivities were a bit more relaxed from the early morning of December 25th, according to Ann Lawrence-Mathers, a historian from the University of Reading in the U.K., where she is a specialist in the medieval period of England, which is roughly from the fifth century A.D. to 1500 A.D.

“Once Christmas Day came around, if you had the stamina, then you were expected to eat, drink, be merry, dress up, play games, go dancing around the neighborhood for 12 days solid before you collapsed in a heap,” she explains.

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Feasting

Through the Middle Ages, the holiday began to take shape before dawn on Christmas day, with the Christmas celebration that marked the official close of Advent and the beginning of the festive season from December 25th until January 5th.

The level of Christmas indulgence depended on the status of your family; however, Lawrence-Mathers claims that the vast majority of people would, at a minimum, get a pig slaughtered during November, salted and smoked of Christmas bacon, and Hams.

The countryside was where the wealthy manor owners were expected to offer their tenants at least 12 days of rest from their chores and serve their tenants a feast. It’s not easy to pinpoint what was served, but in ” The Goodman of Paris,” a text that was written in 1393, the author provides the mandatory dishes for the “special feast.” The menu began with a plate of sausages, pastries, and black pudding. Then, four courses of fowl, squid, and roasts, as well as a last course of custards and tarts, as well as sweetmeats and nuts.

Medieval royals took this art form of Christmas eating to a new level. The Christmas dinner that was held in Reading Abbey in 1226; reading Abbey in 1226, King Henry III requested 40 salmon, a plethora of boar and venison meat, as well as “as many lampreys as possible.” Henry V, king in the 1400s in the beginning, added exotic dishes to his Christmas menu, such as porpoises, eels, and crayfish.

One thing that emerges quite clearly is that drinking alcohol was just as important as eating or eating,” says Lawrence-Mathers. in a note that spiced cider and ale were the preferred drink for commoners, whereas the royals and lords took a sip from wine casks. In a short time, Henry III ordered 60 tuns of wine to be delivered to Reading Abbey, with one tun equivalent to one bottle.

Mumming, Hoggling, and the Feast of Fools

Perhaps it was the result of the alcohol consumption or the dress-up games, but dress-up and role reversals were a massive part of the medieval Christmas celebrations. Some were remnants of earlier pagan rituals during Christmas and the Winter solstice.

Mumming, for instance, was a typical Christmas activity in medieval English villages. Mummers would dress with animal masks or pretend to be women, then walk from door to door, singing Christmas music and telling stories. Mums would do it to have fun, while others would have hoped for a few bucks or small gifts to exchange.

The animal masks might be related to an unusual Christmas custom practiced by the royals, where revelers paraded through the hall of feasting wearing headless animals (cooked surprisingly healthy) and singing memorable tunes. The most well-known outfit was that of a boar’s head, which was later substituted with an animal mask made of wood in later times.

The middle of the 12-day celebration was the Feast of Fools, held on January 1st, where priests, deacons, and Church officials received quick permission to act foolish. Reversals of roles were a popular thing where the weak subdeacons would preach, and sometimes, things got out of hand. According to a 15th-century French report which condemned the method:

“Priests and clerks” can be seen in masks and monstrous faces during office hours… These people are in a choir and dance as panders, women, or minstrels. They sing songs of wanton. They consume desserts made of black… as the priest is reciting Mass. They also play dice… It is said that they race and leap across the church without having to smile at their guilt .”

Bean Cake: How Christmas Was Celebrated in the Middle Ages

The celebration was held on the Night of January 5th. Twelfth Night, also known as Twelfthtide, was a holiday during the Middle Ages and represented the conclusion of 12 days of celebration and mischief. Shakespeare probably wrote his infamous comedy Twelfth Night as an opera to be staged at TwelfTwelfth Night. This is why we have the cross-dressing heroine and the funny jokes.

Theth Night, hence the cross-dressing heroine and practical jokes.

The star for Twelfth Evening was the Bean Cake. The cake was a delicious fruit-filled delight in which the tiny dried bean was concealed.

The person who got the cake that had the bean in it was “king” for the Night and could make people forfeit silly penalties that they had to follow,” Lawrence-Mathers says. Another monarch’s name was “Lord of Misrule,” who shook up social hierarchies and demanded embarrassing duties from authority figures such as parents, schoolmasters, and lords.

Twelfth Night marked the conclusion of the two weeks of eating and drinking, dress-up, and ignoring rules that made up the medieval Christmas.

Predicting the Futur

Strangely enough, the Twelve Days of Christmas was essential for the medieval pseudoscience of prognostication. Lawrence Mathers.

Priests pondered over the texts referred to as “prognostics” that explained the Biblical practice of interpreting nature’s signs–including storms, rainbows, and high winds–to forecast the weather patterns for the upcoming year and predict crucial things to come.

The concept is that God gave signs to people who could understand them, and the 12 days of Christmas are a time of celebration,” Lawrence-Mathers explains.

For instance, if it was clear and sunny on Christmas Day, it was a signal that spring was expected to be mild and warm, resulting in a successful crop and overall health. However, the intense storms that swept through the area on Christmas Day signaled a lousy year for the wealthy and robust.

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