View Full Version : Was Christmas A Big Deal In Medieval Times?
11-24-2003, 01:32 AM
I have attended the Christmas Revels (I highly recommned it), and I enjoy celebrating the Christmas season. However, was it really that big of a celebration in Medieval times? Most of what we do as far as celebrating Christmas goes, seems to derive from 18th century Germany and England-the Christmas tree, for example. How did the medieval folk celebrat Christmas-was it just a big feast, or did they have trees, gift-giving, etc.?:o
11-24-2003, 05:22 AM
certainly the english made a big deal of christmas in the fifteenth century - I guess just a big feast accompanied by the obligatory knees-up...
11-24-2003, 06:35 AM
Both the Roman Saturnalia and the Mithran feast of Sol Invictus, each celebrated at the end of December, included parties and gift exchanges. On the Roman New Year, houses were decorated and gifts were bestowed on children and the poor. That is not to say that the Christians borrowed all their festivities from each (or any) of the ongoing traditions of the time, but given their presence in Rome in the third and fourth centuries and their development in Germanic countries after those lands had been converted to Christianity, it is a reasonable inference that at least the traditions of gift-giving and celebrating have occurred in Western Christianity throughout its history.
Similarly, while specific traditions differ at the east end of the Mediterranean (along with more of a focus on January 6 than December 25), those people also have long cultural traditions of celebration and gift-giving.
I suspect that the manner in which Americans celebrate are the reslut of a cultural bottleneck that left specific traditions dominant. The celebrations that have been reported throughout history have, on several occasions, degenerated into drunkeness and debauchery. In the Puritan period, the combined rejection of drunken revelry and the insistence on suppressing pagan or papist traditions (occasionally viewed as one and the same) resulted in the suppression of Christmas in British North America. (I do not see evidence that it was effectively suppressed in Britain, itself, although there were some lean years.) After the U.S. achieved independence, as the country stumbled about looking for its own traditions, the German immigrants who continued to celebrate Christmas were the most visible group defying "American" traditions and the Americans adopted the German traditions by default. As other European immigrants brought their traditions to North America, they were adapted to the heavily German tradition that had already established itself in the U.S., leaving us with the impression that "Christmas" celebrations are "Germanic."
11-24-2003, 06:46 AM
Regarding medieval Christmas celebrations in England: Chaucer mentions singing and dancing at Christmas and Malory makes a big deal of Christmas celebrations in his Morte d'Arthur. (One might claim that Malory was Renaissance, but he was close enough to the medieval period to be drawing on some cultural memory of big celebrations.)
11-24-2003, 10:06 AM
Old Christmas music is still regularly performed--I attended a concert by a choral group a couple of years ago that did songs from the period of Spanish rule in Mexico and the SW US (1600s-1700s). I couldn't find a site for the group I saw, but here is a similar thing--revivals of old music have been fairly popular lately. (http://ninestones.com/consort/) Some carols still regularly sung are rather ancient (Good King Wenceslas, Coventry Carol).
And here is a site with Renaissance Christmas poems. (http://shakespeareauthorship.com/xmas/)
So, as Tom said, there's still written original source material about Christmas extant in English, like the Malory, from earlier periods.
11-24-2003, 10:22 AM
From what I can tell, a great number of women had problems falling down during medieval Christmases. They always landed on their backs, though.
vBulletin® v3.7.3, Copyright ©2000-2013, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.