How was Christmas celebrated in the Middle Ages?

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Today we will talk about how Christmas was celebrated in the Middle Ages. After all, Christmas is now associated with fun and giving gifts. Was the holiday different in that distant time from what we celebrate now?

Medieval Christmas was not as inclusive a holiday as it is today. This holiday was important, but the more significant holiday was Easter.

The birth of a holiday

Many ancient religions placed great importance on the phenomenon of the winter solstice, the time when daylight was shortest and night was longest during the year. According to the Julian calendar, this date originally fell on December 25. It was during this time that the Romans held winter festivals called Saturnalia, in honor of the god Saturn. This included feasts and the custom of giving wax dolls to children. There were other traditions, including in the Celtic areas of the Roman Empire, where men and women dressed in clothing of the opposite sex and then went to dance in animal masks.

Meanwhile, within the framework of Christianity, as a new religion for the Early Middle Ages, a number of special days were adopted as holidays. And around the period around 300 AD. e. It was decided that this holiday would be held in honor of the birth of Christ. Unfortunately, the actual date of Jesus’ birth is not given in the Gospels or any other early Christian writings. Since emperors at that time usually celebrated their birthdays on random dates, it was decided to choose a date for Jesus’ birthday. As a result, December 25th was chosen. The theological basis of this date was that it fell exactly nine months from March 25, which was considered the day of the creation of the world, as well as the date of Christ’s conception.

During the Early Middle Ages, Christmas became one of the most important days of the Christian year.

The holiday of Christmas included a number of pagan ceremonies and customs, especially among the Germanic peoples. Some Christians openly resented the practice: During the Christmas holidays, people “sang and danced in the streets, uttered pagan cries and blasphemous songs, and held banquets day and night. Meanwhile, Christian leaders tolerated or tolerated some of these practices, and they gradually became part of the traditional Christian holiday.

Christmas is one of two days in the Christian calendar (the other being Easter) when three services are held on the same day – starting with midnight, followed by another at dawn and a third later in the day.

How long was Christmas celebrated in the Middle Ages?

For those who celebrated Christmas in the Middle Ages, this period covered at least 2 weeks and ended with the feast of Epiphany. Christmas was also preceded by a month of fasting. This post was considered as a time of preparation for the holiday and was a time of self-restraint, struggle with one’s desires and passions.

The beginning of the holiday and dishes

In the Middle Ages, the holiday began before dawn on Christmas morning with a special Christmas service that signaled the official end of Lent and the beginning of the holiday season, which ran from December 25 to January 5 (as measured by the Gregorian calendar).

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The scope of the Christmas celebration depended on the social status of the person. Most people prepared food in advance. For example, they slaughtered a pig back in November, salted and smoked it in preparation for the Christmas feast.

After all these preparations, Christmas celebrations began and wealthy people were expected to distribute festive food and drink. For example, in Western Europe, rich landowners gave their peasants 1-2 weeks off from hard work and served them a festive dinner.

Thus, in the text of the work “The Good Man of Paris,” written in 1393, the author describes that the festive dinner began with pies, sausages and blood sausage. This was followed by four courses of fish, poultry and roasted meat, followed by custard, pies, nuts and sweets.

For example, for the Christmas dinner held at Reading Abbey in 1226, King Henry III of England ordered 40 salmon, lots of boar’s meat and river lampreys (a fish-like creature). And Henry V, who reigned in the early 1400s, included even more exotic delicacies on his Christmas menu, such as crayfish, eels and porpoise. One of the best royal delicacies at Christmas was roasted swan.

Of course, drinking for the holiday was as important as food. For example, ale and spiced cider were the drinks of choice for commoners, while lords and royalty preferred wine. In just one year, the previously mentioned Henry III ordered 60 barrels of wine for Reading Abbey (one barrel of wine was equal to 1272 bottles).

By the Late Middle Ages, the bringing of a whole cooked boar’s head into the feast hall at Christmas had become a ceremonial event, accompanied by a procession of costumed dancers and singing.

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Christmas trees

The tree was an important symbol in various pagan cultures. Evergreens, considered to have special powers and used for decoration in ancient Rome, symbolized the promised return of life in the spring and became a symbol of eternal life for Christians.

For example, the Vikings decorated fir trees with war trophies for good luck. Gradually, other nations adopted this tradition. Later, in Western Europe, holiday trees that were outdoors began to be decorated with apples on Christmas Eve. Large feasts and celebrations were often held around the tree in medieval cities, including dancing around the tree.

Now you know the answer to the question: how was Christmas celebrated in the Middle Ages.

Additionally, through this link, you can find a wealth of fascinating information about the Middle Ages and medieval castles.