How did medieval people mark the passing of the New Year? Well, interestingly enough, it wasn’t always celebrated on January 1st. That date was the first day of the Roman civil year. When Roman law was revived in the Middle Ages, in some places, January 1st was selected to signal the beginning of the New Year, but it wasn’t standard. In fact, many New Year’s celebrations were held on March 25th, The Feast of the Annunciation; a religious holiday that celebrated the coming of the Angel Gabriel to Mary with news that she would bear God a son. The streets would be filled with processions, and people would make offerings to Mary. In some places, like Venice, the New Year began on March 1st, and in others, it began on Christmas or Easter. The Anglo-Saxons celebrated December 25th as the New Year, but this switched to March 25th in the later Middle Ages, and then to January 1st in the 18th century.
Christmas FeastsHaill, Yule! Haill!
Christmas conjures up images of a host of culinary delights and treats to modern man; as one of the most festive occasions in the contemporary calendar, the season is marked by indulgences in food and diet that normally would be restricted or frowned upon during other parts of the year. This is further punctuated by a celebratory attitude that at this time permits (and even encourages) a relaxation of one’s usual mode of eating and simply allows nearly everything that is desirable and tasty! It is a time of eating, of feasting, of sharing repasts with friends and neighbors, and of gaining the ubiquitous Christmas pounds!
Such festivity was true in medieval times as well, though there are striking differences in what was eaten and served at Christmas time then as compared to now. Simply put, there were not as many Christmas-specific foods as there are now; mankind feasted heartily, but on foods and recipes that also were available and popular during the rest of the year – these were produced in finer quality and eaten in greater amounts at this time, but there was not a specific and detailed menu on what should or should not be eaten at Christmas. Much of the festivity that revolved around food seemed to be not in what was being offered, but in how it was offered, the quantities that were available, and in the act of sharing a meal and eating together. Several dishes of healthy, tasty food and ale to last a day, along with fuel for cooking and warmth, and candles to light the long evening, was an honored and acceptable gift from the lord to his villeins. In some recorded cases, the gift of food for the day was as simple as a loaf of bread, ale to drink, and some firewood. Many lords would invite their workers and serfs to the manor for Christmas dinner; in most cases, though, the food, serving utensils, and even the fuel for cooking were usually provided by the villeins themselves. It seems the real spirit of the moment was seen in the communal exchange of food and the enjoyment of feasting with friends in front of the burning Yule Log of the lord’s hearth. Continue reading
At the Tower of London this festive season we partied like it was 1284! Heres a selection of the medieval merriment that was on offer including carols, soldiers songs, an exquisite feast and a personal greeting from a nun and bishop!
Christmas was an important time throughout medieval Europe, and many traditions developed during this period, some of which are still popular. Here are seven things you might see during Christmas in the Middle Ages, which range from cribs in Italy to trolls in Iceland.