Medieval Holiday Celebrations

Looking for unique ways to celebrate the holidays? Try Dame Aoife's medieval holiday links for inspiration. Warm Holiday Greetings unto my faithful readers, from Dame Aoife Finn.

As you well know, 'tis the season. "The Season" means a little something different to each of us, as it did to our medieval ancestors. Here in this Links List I hope you are able to find information about medieval celebrations for the holiday of your choice: be it Yule, Christmas, Saturnalia, Twelfth Night, Winter Solstice, Ramadan, Hanukkah, Chinese New Year (admittedly a little farther in the year's cycle),or a little bit of each. There are 33 links to explore, a little overkill I'm sure but I wanted to include as many faith's celebrations as possible. If I have forgotten some faith's medieval winter celebration, I'm sure someone will correct me :)

May you be warm and well this holiday season, may you be surrounded by loved ones, and may life bring you joy and abundance in the new year.

Cheers,
Aoife

About.com: Medieval Christmas
http://historymedren.about.com/library/weekly/aa120897.htm
(Site Excerpt) Just exactly what Christmas was like depends not only on where it was observed, but when. In late antiquity, Christmas was a quiet and solemn occasion, marked by a special mass and calling for prayer and reflection. Until the fourth century, no fixed date had been formally set by the Church -- in some places it was observed in April or May, in others in January and even in November. It was Pope Julius I who officially fixed the date at December 25th, and why exactly he chose the date is still not clear.

A Boke of Gode Cookery Presents How to Cook Medieval Christmas Feasts Haill, Yule! Haill!
http://www.godecookery.com/how2cook/howto06.htm
(Site Excerpt) There are some food rules to remember when composing an authentic medieval feast; as the days leading up to Christmas were the fast, or fish-days of Advent, fish was eaten in great quantities up to and including Christmas Eve. (This, therefore, usually meant that fish was not considered an appropriate food for the post-Advent Christmas period; one would be considered a poor or offensive host to offer fish for a Christmas meal!) The practice of serving fish up until Christmas Day survives enthusiastically today as the modern Italian-American tradition of a large and extravagant Christmas Eve seafood dinner.

About.com Medieval Christmas Traditions
http://historymedren.about.com/library/blxmas.htm
(Site Excerpt) Among the Pagan traditions that have become part of Christmas is burning the yule log. This custom springs from many different cultures, but in all of them its significance seems to lie in the iul or "wheel" of the year. The Druids would bless a log and keep it burning for 12 days during the winter solstice; part of the log was kept for the following year, when it would be used to light the new yule log. For the Vikings, the yule log was an integral part of their celebration of the solstice, the julfest; on the log they would carve runes representing unwanted traits (such as ill fortune or poor honor) that they wanted the gods to take from them.

On Christmas in the Middle Ages by Nicolaa de Bracton of Leicester
http://www.byu.edu/ipt/projects/middleages/LifeTimes/Christmas.html
(Site Excerpt) Slowly, the emphasis on the nativity in the cycle plays lead to a rise in interest in Christmas itself. Yule became synonymous with Christmas, and customs such the Yule log and decorating with evergreens, despite their non-Christian origins, became associated with this holiday as well. Holly, ivy, laurel, and other evergreens were often used thenceforth as metaphors for the infant Christ; even the mistletoe, whose pagan associations are the clearest, continued to be incorporated into the celebrations. In the 16th century, garlands of evergreens were sometimes placed around wire hoops; three of these would then be placed together to form a sort of ball, which was then hung. Alas, despite the scene in The Lion in Winter featuring a huge decorated evergreen, Christmas trees were a much-later addition. Christmas gifts, however, were common well before the 15th century, when in England legislation had to be passed limiting them. However, gift-giving did not as yet concentrate on Christmas Day, but occurred throughout the holiday season.

Hisytory Learning Sike-UK
Medieval Christmas

http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/medieval_xmas.htm
(Site Excerpt) However, some of the problems experienced at Christmas then have had a knock-on effect for us. For example, carol singers going from house to house now is as a result of carols being banned within churches in Medieval times. Carol singers in Medieval times took the word "carol" literally - it means to sing and dance in a circle. So many Xmas services were spoiled by carol signers doing just this, that the Church at the time banned them and ordered the carol singers into the street. The Christmas crib originated in Medieval times but in Medieval Italy. In 1223, Saint Francis of Assisi is said to have used a crib to explain to the local people of Assisi the Christmas story. It seems that the part played by animals in the Christmas story also comes from the early 13th century even if the Bible does not mention them !

Medieval World Christmas Links
http://www.geocities.com/MedievalWorld/LinksChristmas.html
A List of informational Links

Christmas in 1376
http://www.camlann.org/1376%20Yule.htm
(Site Excerpt) On Christmas day, 1376, King Edward holds a great and solemn feast, to which all the prelates, earls, barons, and knights are invited to attend. In theory every person who represents the king in the realm is expected, as a show of loyalty. But as there are so many minor knights this is not practical, and for lesser provincials one attendance during a lifetime is considered sufficient, but anyone of distinction or within a day's journey of Westminster is expected to attend this annual event, and absence would be noted and studied, probably with disfavor.

Medieval Illuminations: Christmas
http://www.kb.nl/kb/manuscripts/highlights/73B13_uk.html
12 images with descriptions

Christmas courts in medieval and Tudor periods.
The festivities and customs of the royal courts at Christmas.

http://www.britainexpress.com/History/medieval/christmas.htm
(Site Excerpt) One of the hallmarks of the medieval era was the emergence of the court as the hub of political clout and social influence. As the nobility became more cultured and worldly, their posturing for power became more sophisticated. Great store was set on display, pageantry, courtly manners and formal behavior. The role of the courtier evolved from that of the king's brutish henchman, to that of the suave manipulator, as gifted in the subtleties of ceremony and protocol as in the hard, cold strategies of empire-building.

The Origin and Meaning of the Christmas Tree
http://users.rcn.com/tlclcms/chrtree.htm
(Site Excerpt) Indeed, the earliest record of an evergreen tree being used and decorated (but without lights) for Christmas is 1521 in the German region of Alsace.7 Another useful description has been found among the notes of an unknown resident of Strasbourg in 1605, who writes that "At Christmas they set up fir trees in the parlors at Strasburg and hang thereon roses cut of many- coloured paper, apples, wafers, gold-foil, sweets . . ."8 Some fifty years later (about 1650) the great Lutheran theologian Johann Dannhauer wrote in his The Milk of the Catechism that "the Christmas or fir tree, which people set up in their houses, hang with dolls and sweets, and afterwards shake and deflower. . . Whence comes this custom I know not; it is child's play . . . Far better were it to point the children to the spiritual cedar-tree, Jesus Christ."9

History of Ramadan
http://www.islaam.com/ramadan/ramadan_in_history.htm
(Site Excerpt) In the first year after the Hijrah, the Prophet, sallallahu `alaihi wa sallam, sent Hamza ibn Abdul Muttalib with thirty Muslim riders to Saif al Bahr to investigate three hundred riders from Quraish who had camped suspiciously in that area. The Muslims were about to engage the disbelievers, but they were separated byMajdy ibn Umar al-Juhany. The Hypocrites of Madinah, hoping to oppose the unity of the Muslims, built their own masjid (called Masjid ad-Dirar). The Prophet, sallallahu `alaihi wa sallam, ordered this masjid to be destroyed in Ramadan.

Winter Solstice Celebrations
http://www.candlegrove.com/solstice.html#others
(Site Excerpt) No one's really sure how long ago humans recognized the winter solstice and began heralding it as a turning point -- the day that marks the return of the sun. One delightful little book written in 1948, 4,000 Years of Christmas, puts its theory right up in the title. The Mesopotamians were first, it claims, with a 12-day festival of renewal, designed to help the god Marduk tame the monsters of chaos for one more year. It's a charming theory. But who knows how accurate it is? Cultural anthropology has advanced a lot in the last 50 years! .....And now a book, The Sun in the Church reveals that many medieval Catholic churches were also built as solar observatories. The church, once again reinforcing the close ties between religious celebration and seasonal passages, needed astronomy to predict the date of Easter. And so observatories were built into cathedrals and churches throughout Europe. Typically, a small hole in the roof admitted a beam of sunlight, which would trace a path along the floor. The path, called the meridian line, was often marked by inlays and zodiacal motifs. The position at noon throughout the year, including the extremes of the solstices, was also carefully marked.

Sacaea-Saturnalia
http://www.candlegrove.com/sacaea.html
(Site Excerpt) Four thousand years ago or so, ancient Egyptians celebrated the rebirth of the sun at this time of year. They set the length of the festival at 12 days, to reflect the 12 divisions in their sun calendar. They decorated with greenery, using palms with 12 shoots as a symbol of the completed year, since a palm was thought to put forth a shoot each month....The annual renewal festival of the Babylonians was adopted by the Persians. One of the themes of these festivals was the temporary subversion of order. Masters and slaves exchanged places. A mock king was crowned. Masquerades spilled into the streets. As the old year died, rules of ordinary living were relaxed.

Hanukkah: The History of Hanukkah
Prepared by Rabbi Mark S. Diamond

http://www.ridgenet.org/szaflik/hanukkah.htm
(Site Excerpt) The Hebrew word Hanukkah means "dedication." The roots of this name, and the Hanukkah holiday, come from the second century B.C.E. (Before the Common Era). Chafing under foreign domination, a band of Jews led by Mattathias took to the hills of Judea in open revolt against the Seleucid regime of Antiochus IV.

Chinese New Year History
http://www.web-holidays.com/lunar/
(Site Excerpt) Legend tells of a village in China, thousands of years ago, that was ravaged by an evil monster one winter's eve. The following year the monster returned and again ravaged the village. Before it could happen a third time, the villagers devised a plan to scare the monster away. Red banners were hung everywhere; the color red has long been believed to protect against evil. Firecrackers, drums and gongs were used to create loud noises to scare the beast away. The plan worked and the celebration lasted several days during which people visited with each other, exchanged gifts, danced and ate tasty comestibles.

Winter Holidays
http://www.twilightbridge.com/hobbies/festivals/general/calendar.htm
This site lists major holidays of many cultures including those with fixed dates and those with dates that are not fixed. Links to some of the holidays (click on the highlited name) will take you to fun pages with a little information on all aspects of those holidays.

Create a Medieval Holiday Feast
http://www.stoneclave.com/tavern/food/xmasfoods.asp
A series of Links to other articles

Richard III Society: Medieval Christmas celebrations (Acrobat Reader required)
http://www.richardiiiworcs.co.uk/di42/christmas.pdf
A short PDF article with sources.

A Medieval Christmas Feast as adapted by Absinthe Yronwode
http://www.daos.org/oracle/MedXmasMain2.html
(Site Excerpt---be sure to check out the recipes link at the bottom of the page) Medieval England is touted with a most important contribution to the festivities, centuries after the date was established, namely.it's name. The words Cristes Maesse - literally, Mass of Christ - appears as early as 1038, and a chronicle from the year 1134 reads: "This yere heald se kyng Heanri his hird (court) aet Cristes masesse on Windlesoure (Windsor)." Thus, our modern Christmas is derived from somehow keeping the original pronunciation of Crist (that rhymed with mist) and slurring our 't' into the mass, which brought about the unusual phonetic Crissmuss.a word that no longer quite conjures the image of the original meaning.

12th Night Feast--Head Cook: Sir Gunthar Jonsson (SCA)
http://www.godecookery.com/scafeast/steps12.htm
(Site excerpt) First Course Bread with Honey | Roast Pork with Assorted Sauces | Garlic Pepper Sauce | Strawberry Sauce Lombard Brewet in Bread Bowls | Tart of Parsnips & Skerrits | Saffron Rice | Apple Fritters Second Course Beef Collops | Chicken in Orange or Lemon Sauce | Mushroom Pasties | Lentils | Peascods Boiled Cream Custard Tart Platters Sliced Apples & Peasrs | Dates | Cheese Toasts | Cuskeynoles

A Medieval Spanish Christmas: Nativity through Epiphany
http://www.humnet.ucla.edu/santiago/xmas.html
(Site Excerpt) Sound files, texts, and some of the information on this page are drawn from the CD, "A Medieval Christmas," by The Boston Camerata, Joel Cohen, Director (Elektra Nonesuch 9 71315-2, track 1)

Christmas Music from Medieval England
http://www.geocities.com/rupertdamerell/zen401notes.html
A List of Music Files for Download

Medieval Yule
http://www.simnet.is/gardarj/yule3.htm
(Site Excerpt) In early Medieval times, the Yule feasts were continued, even if the occasion had changed. In the Thirteenth Century several of the most powerful chieftains in Iceland, such as the historian Snorri Sturluson, his nemesis Gissur �rvaldsson, Snorri's kinsmen �r�r kakali and �rgils skar�, all held large feasts at Yule. And so did the Bishops of the bishopric at H�ar. These were large feasts, which lasted for several days and included dancing, games and sports and other entertainment.

Stefan's Florilegium--Collected Yule Messages
http://www.florilegium.org/files/CELEBRATIONS/Yule-msg.html
(Site Excerpt of one message) My research into this area (a hard one to try, since there are so many books published on the subject which call Victorian customs "ancient customs") is that evergreens have a very long association with the holiday season, dating to the pre-Christian era. Many of these plants were treated symbolically in some of the nativity parts of th cycle plays and pageants. Holly, mistletoe (which was eventually banned in churches because of its pagan associations) and roses (Jesus= the christmas rose) are all good choices, too. If you want to add a fun touch, put up gold balls. They're a symbol of St. Nicholas (whose feast day is nigh, by the way). Candles would not be out of place. They rarely were in the Middle Ages...:-)

Yule: circa December 21 by Mike Nichols
copyright by MicroMuse Press

http://www.msu.edu/user/rohdemar/earth/sabbats/yule.html
(Article Excerpt) Our Christian friends are often quite surprised at how enthusiastically we Pagans celebrate the 'Christmas' season. Even though we prefer to use the word 'Yule', and our celebrations may peak a few days BEFORE the 25th, we nonetheless follow many of the traditional customs of the season: decorated trees, carolling, presents, Yule logs, and mistletoe. We might even go so far as putting up a 'Nativity set', though for us the three central characters are likely to be interpreted as Mother Nature, Father Time, and the Baby Sun-God. None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who knows the true history of the holiday, of course.

Saturnalia or Brumalia: A Winter Solstice Ritual Apollonius Sophistes (c) 1996 ---Note: A How-to-celebrate (In a religious way) article
http://www.cs.utk.edu/~mclennan/BA/Saturnalia.html
(Site Excerpt) This ritual compresses the Consualia (for Consus, God of the Storage Bin), the Saturnalia (for Saturn, God of Sowing), and the Opalia (for Ops, Goddess of Plenty) into a single festival, a Brumalia, or Winter Solstice (Bruma) ritual. The Saturnalia Chants are available on a separate page, which may be printed for use in the ritual.

Medieval Sourcebook:
The Golden Legend: Epiphany

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/goldenlegend/GL-vol1-epiphany.html
(Site Excerpt) Here followeth the Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord and of the three kings.
The Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord is adorned of four miracles, and after them it hath four names. On this day the kings worshipped Jesu Christ, and S. John Baptist baptized him. And Jesu Christ changed this day water into wine, and he fed five thousand men with five loaves of bread. When Jesu Christ was in the age of thirteen days the three kings came to him the way like as the star led them, and therefore this day is called Epiphany, or the thiephanye in common language.

THE MEDIEVAL YEAR
The year was reckoned not so much by month or date but by religious and saints days.
http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~gedeon/medyear.htm
(Site Excerpt) ADVENT
1st Sunday of Advent: 4th Sunday before Christmas, start of the church year.
2nd Sunday of Advent: John the Baptist proclaims Jesus as the messiah.
3rd Sunday of Advent: 'Gaudetes Sunday', purple hangings changed for Rose ones in preparation for the incarnation.
Ember days: (Wed, Fri, Sat before 4th Sunday): solemn vigils for those to be ordained.
4th Sunday of Advent: advent is a time of fasting, like lent is before Easter.
25th December: Christmas Day. Masses at midnight, dawn and, say, vesper-time (3 masses per day are only allowed on special feasts). The tree symbology came from St. Boniface, and the crib from St.Francis. Xmas dinner is a Boar's head (4th Century).
28th December: Childermass day, the Holy innocents. Herod slaughters all male offspring in Judaea. No new clothes bought, no major new undertakings on this same day of the week all year until next childermass day. 1st January: The Circumcision. (6th Century). The New Year was of little significance.
Note that, due to the inaccuracies of the Julian calendar, by the late medieval period the calendar was several weeks out of sync with the sun. 6th January: Epiphany, the Adoration of the Magi. The three Kings give presents to Jesus, Gold for kingship, Frankincense for priesthood, and Myrrh for death.
Twelth Night: end of the Christmas season.

Stefan's Florilegium: Wassail messages
http://www.florilegium.org/files/BEVERAGES/wassail-msg.text
(Site excerpt of one message) I made a lot of wassail for Twelfth Night events hosted by Southkeep before I moved out of Trimaris. My recipe is as follows:
1 gallon cyser (I made my own; semi-dry)
1 gallon apple juice
2 sticks cinnamon
5 cloves
1 slice fresh ginger root (thin)

History of the Fool (12th night)
http://www.foolsforhire.com/info/history.html
(Site Excerpt) Traditional forms often dealt with transitional periods in the life of the countryside: old year/new year, Lent, Mid-Summer, marriage feasts, funerals, initiation rites and holidays (Christmas, Easter, Epiphany). Traditional fools played erratic games with these primary foundations of human experience and expressed how the society either managed or mismanaged meaning in both everyday and heightened experience.

Twelfth Night: Madness and Folly
From Midsummer Magazine, 1991

http://www.bard.org/SectionEducate/twelfthmadness.html
(Site excerpt) Feste is the most obvious of these fools, belonging to a class of jesters who, as Anton C. Zijderveld writes in Reality in a Looking Glass, "were . . . in full command of their wits. . . . They played at being foolish, often with much wit and ingenuity" (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982, 92). He is the "allowed fool" who can criticize the two absolute rulers of the playOlivia and Orsinowith impunity, and he does. He takes the liberty to prove Olivia a fool for her grief (1.5.56-71) and to chastise Orsino for his changeability (2.4.73-79). Feste is the only member of this society who can find fault with his superiors without endangering his position. When Malvolio rather nastily reproaches Olivia for enjoying Feste' s jests, Olivia is quick to remind him of his place and to deliver some criticism of her own: she replies, "You are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite" (1.5.90-1).

East Kingdom Twelfth Night Feast by Phil Troy (Gideanus Adamantius)
http://www.ostgardr.org/cooking/twelfth.night.html
(Site Excerpt) I've elected to bake the fish rather than fry it; from a medieval standpoint the end results are almost indistinguishable, except that saute� fish for a few hundred people is messy and impractical. Also, we'll be using almond milk in our sauce, for, as the Goodman says, only one thickening is necessary. However, the almond milk will be made with cow's milk and cream as a base liquid. While this is not the method used in the recipe above, it was fairly common to produce a particularly rich and thick almond milk in this way.

School of the Seasons Twelfth Night
http://www.schooloftheseasons.com/twelfthnight.html
(Site Excerpt) This twelfth night of the twelve days of Christmas is the official end of the winter holiday season and one of the traditional days for taking down the Christmas decorations (see also Jan 13 and Feb 1). This is also a traditional day for wassailing apple trees. In southern and western England, revelers gathered in orchards where they sang to the trees, drank to their health, poured hot cider over their roots, left cider-soaked toast in their branches for the birds and scared away evil spirits with a great shout and the firing of guns.