Many thanks to award-winning and multi-published author Allison Knight for contributing to Rita Bay’s Holiday Celebrations with her blog on Medieval Christmas. Allison is the author of the outstanding Song Medieval series from Champagne Books. WINDSONG is the latest in the series.
First, no one knows exactly on what day Christ was born. Pope Julius I selected December 25 way back in the 6th century. It might have been a play on words for the Druids celebrated the “Birth of the SUN” at that time and Julius declared the day to be the “Birth of the SON.” Since I write about medieval England, I’ll concentrate on their traditions. It’s not surprising to learn most of their traditions were influenced by the Druids.
Let’s start with the Yule log, a tradition in every castle and manor house in England. The Druids had a great reverence for trees, especially evergreens which you’ll see later. All trees were special and had spiritual meaning for the pagans. During the winter solstice, they’d selected a big log and keep it burning for the entire 12 days of celebrations which also included a lot of food, drink and games.
Back to the English Yule log. In the middle ages, the men of the household went into the woods searching for the perfect tree, then dragged it home and kept it burning for the twelve days of Christmas. If it burned for the full 12 days it brought good luck to the household.
The English also followed the tradition of feasting and drinking. The host would toast his guests with Wassail, a strong hot drink of ale, honey and spices. Caroling came much later because the Church, which played a central part in everyone’s life, didn’t approve of it.
Even the breads they ate can be traced back to a pagan religion. The Druids baked bread to honor the God of the Harvest. At Christmas in the middle ages, they called their special bread the bread of life and inscribed it with a “J” for Jesus.
Gift giving had nothing to do with Christmas back then. This was a religious time and the peasants loved it. The food of the day was mince meat pies and yes, those pies had shredded bits of meat along with fruit and spices. They were much smaller and looked nothing like our pies today. The days involved all kinds of religious dramas played out in Church. In fact, the original Christmas tree did not come from Germany. Remember the evergreens I mentioned that the Druids held in such reverence. On the 24th of December, a big fur was place outside of Church and decorated with apples, hence the first Christmas tree. The play on the 24th was all about the fall of man and the part the apple played in his downfall.
The nativity crib was first constructed in Italy by St. Francis of Assisi in the early part of the 13th century, but it wasn’t part of the medieval Christmas tradition in England.
I’ll add one final note. December 28th was considered a day of extreme bad luck. You didn’t go any place or do anything if you could help it. Did I mention there was a lot of superstitions in the middle ages?
Whatever your traditions, may I wish you all a Happy Christmas!
Award winning author, Allison Knight claims she’s married to the world’s greatest husband because he’s her greatest supporter and works with her on all her projects. The mother of four children, she retired from teaching to move south to warmer climes. She has written and published nineteen romances for both paperback and digital publishers. Her third medieval romance from her ‘song’ series and a short story are available from Champagne Books, Inc.
Because she can never quite step out of teaching mode, she blogs often sharing the knowledge she gained writing and publishing in the romance genre. She also loves to talk about the growing digital market.
You can find her at:
She blogs once a month for The Writers’ Vineyard, http://thewritersvineyard.com
Thank you again, Allison. Tomorrow, the oldest surviving free-standing nativity scene. Rita Bay