Hearts Through History Romance Writers

Christmas in Medieval England

by | December 25, 2009 | 3 comments

Since my day to post fell on December 25th, highlighting some Christmas traditions in my favorite time period and location seemed appropriate.

The word Christmas: came from the Old English “Cristes Maesse” and Middle English “Christemasse,” or Christ’s Mass. St. Nicholas day was celebrated on December 6, but the popular saint had no connection with Christmas/Santa Claus during this period. On this day the “boy bishop” was selected in many churches. The chosen one would dress and behave like an actual bishop for three weeks, until Holy Innocents Day on December 28.

Entertainment: from Christmas to Twelfth Night (Feast of the Epiphany, January 6) included, music, caroling (singing and/or dancing in a circle), and mystery plays. The wealthy featured minstrels, costumed and masked tenants and/or visiting players. New Year’s Day was celebrated with music and gifts.

Someone low on the social ladder was chosen as the Lord of Misrule. He presided over raucous revelry and was permitted to subject those above him to his commands.

Gifts:  Exchanged on New Year’s Day, not Christmas. Lords often gave money to their servants. Servants made ‘offerings’ to people higher up the social ladder of items including gloves.

Lords and tenants gifted each other with food. The lord would either make arrangements for a communal meal or feed his tenants, but they might have to bring their own dining implements.

Food: People couldn’t eat animal products (even milk and cheese) during Advent. So by the time Christmas rolled around, they were ready to eat meat. The wealthy often dined on a variety including venison, goose or perhaps swan. Why not turkey? It wasn’t imported from America until the 1500’s.

Another popular dish was boar’s head, either real or a representation created from other foods. “Brawn en peverade,” a pottage (stew) made from dark, fatty meat of boar or poultry boiled with vinegar, onions and spices was also popular.

The poor would dine on the deer’s “umbles” (liver, kidneys and other innards) baked into a pie. Hence came the phrase,“eating humble pie.”

The plum pudding’s association with Christmas takes us back to medieval England and the Roman Catholic Church’s decree that the ‘pudding should be made on the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity, that it be prepared with thirteen ingredients to represent Christ and the twelve apostles, and that that every family member stir it in turn from east to west to honor the Magi and their supposed journey in that direction. http://www.foodtimeline.org/christmasfood.html

Decorations: Churches and houses were decorated with greenery.

Ruth Kaufman


  1. librarypat

    Always interesting to learn where customs and sayings come from. Every year I find out a little more.

  2. robynl

    very interesting on the association of Plum pudding with Christmas; I've never heard of this until now.


  3. Rebecca Lynn

    Thanks so much for posting this. It was such a great thing to read during the Christmas season!




Share This