Christmas lasted twelve days: how the kings of England celebrated

Christmas lasted twelve days: how the kings of England celebrated


From the Feast of the Presentation of the Theotokos, which is celebrated on December 4, the countdown to Christmas begins, and I also open my little Christmas season, in which the first topic is “the Christmas traditions” of medieval Europe, more specifically, England. Europe will be the first to celebrate Christmas, on December 25, twenty days from now.

Christmas traditions originated in England long ago, and although the holiday was celebrated differently in the Middle Ages, much of what arose in those days remains to this day: festive feasts, games, singing around the fire or around the fire, decorating homes with evergreens and gifts – everything was the same as it is today.

Getting ready for Christmas was a long, laborious process, starting long before the feast, which lasted from twelve days (before Epiphany) for the lower classes, and up to forty days, before the Purification, for the richest and noblest. As a rule, the peasants set to work immediately after Epiphany, while the higher ranks celebrated the whole of January, spending the days in jousting tournaments and multi-day feasts.


The Feast at King Arthur’s Court

Here’s how the Christmas feast at the royal court is described by the unknown author of the 14th century’s most popular English chivalric novel, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The king is celebrating Christmas. Many handsome knights from the noble brotherhood of the Knights of the Round Table are present at the feast. After holding a jousting tournament, they return to the palace to continue the celebration over a lavish meal.

At Camelot on Christmas Eve the King is feasting, And with him mighty men and valiant warriors, At the Round Table, a banquet interspersed with a feast of sport: The knights fought valiantly on the field, The knights were often beaten in jest, And once more they were at feasts of tumult, For fifteen days the feast was on, The music of minstrels was in abundance, The merrymakers danced and drank to their hearts’ content, And day and night the feast was on, And the noise did not cease in the chambers of the castle. The bravest of the brave in Christ’s world, Their lady is the loveliest of all, And above them the wisest king In their springtime dares to make merry. Every man was a hero, and I would say the bravest warrior we ever saw. (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Translated from Middle English by N. Reznikova and V. Tikhomirov)


Preparations for the feast of Christmas

Manchester, England travel guide.

Christmas traditions concerned everything, including, perhaps above all, the festive table. The feast was furnished with numerous rituals and regulations, from the menu to how each dish was served.

On the royal Christmas table it was customary to place the most expensive and finest dishes, prepared according to exquisite recipes. The presentation of each new dish was accompanied by the sound of kettledrums and trumpets. The first place among them was occupied by a variety of meat dishes, which were eaten with various sauces, beer and expensive fine wines.

Christmas tradition prescribed the preparation of roasts of wild boar, poultry, or stew. The Christmas table must have cheese, bread, pudding, various decorative dishes that were decorations for the holiday table (sotelties), but not necessarily edible, and, of course, pies.


Holiday Banquet. January. The Book of Hours (fifteenth century).

Medieval Christmas pies were large, rectangular pies filled with minced pork meat, eggs, fruit, spices, and fat. There were no generally accepted recipes for these pies and each chef made up his or her own recipe.

When the first day of the New Year came, the table was piled twice with unspeakable delicacies. When the hymns are silent in the chapel The King and his suite usher in The clergy and laity shout and sing The meritorious Christmas feast of the high priesthood. And in the meantime, the time for presents to be remembered, The jest of gifts to be given, With clenched hands they shouted, “Come on, into which!” The ladies laughing loudly, To win or lose, they are all merry. And so they spent the day till dinner, Then, after washing, they came to their tables in a dignified manner. The guests of honour at the top, the rank of honour… (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Translated from Middle English by N. Reznikova and V. Tikhomirov)


It is easy to imagine the magnitude of the king’s Christmas celebrations, if you read the record from 1377, which shows that at Christmas time at the court of Richard II twenty-eight oxen and three hundred sheep were eaten, and in 1390 chronicler John Harding records that on Christmas Eve the royal court attended ten thousand people, and all were provided with food and wine, which prepared three hundred cooks and servants.

Journey through the places of Sherlock Holmes

The celebrations of the less noble families were not as large, of course, but they were also impressive. The Christmas traditions of medieval Europe, established over the centuries, required that the house be decorated with some kind of evergreen plant, burning candles, and that there be fire in the house: on this day the sun is born.


The Oxford Roaring.

All families had masquerades, sang Christmas hymns, carols, played the harp or other musical instruments, danced, entertained themselves with board games (cards, dice or chess) and congratulated one another by giving Christmas presents.

Peasants celebrated Christmas with dancing, singing, and dice. Fancy dressers also practiced, visiting wealthy homes and begging them for money for charity. But peasants celebrated Christmas much less than the rich households, returning to work as soon as Christmas was over.

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