It’s December and I can no longer pretend that Christmas isn’t happening, so this week I welcome Jennifer Ash to my blog to tell us how Christmas should be celebrated.
On 3rd December my latest novel, Edward’s Outlaw, was published. This medieval murder mystery adventure follows on from The Outlaw’s Ransom and The Winter Outlaw. All three novels form The Folville Chronicles– a set of novels set in fourteenth century England. (They can be read in order or as standalone tales.)
The second and third books in the collection are set just after Christmas. That got me to thinking about how many of the festive traditions we have today that hail from our medieval past.
For example, the practice of carol singers going from door to door was the result of carollers being banned from the churches. During the medieval period the word “carol” didn’t refer to just a song, but to singing and dancing in a circle. This was frowned upon by the churchmen of the age as it detracted from the seriousness of the occasion. Carol singers were ordered out onto the streets, and often sang in market places, or in front of rows of houses.
Another church related tradition that had its origins in medieval times is the Christmas crib or Nativity scene. In medieval Italy, in1223, Saint Francis of Assisi used a crib as a teaching tool to explain the Christmas story to the local population. Historians believe that this was the first time animals, such as the sheep and the donkey, were added to the Christmas story, even though the Bible does not mention them.
What about Christmas food? Well, Christmas puddings certainly date from medieval England, although they were rather different than those we eat today. Made from a spicy porridge known as frumenty, with currants and dried fruit stirred into it, along with egg yolks, cinnamon and nutmeg, it was a considerably runnier pudding than the one we’re used to.
The majority of Christmas dinners in the UK this year will feature a roast turkey. However, turkeys didn’t reach Britain until the late fifteenth century. In medieval times the rich ate goose, while the poorer families would roast a woodcock if they could get one. Those lords who had royal permission to eat venison would have that for their Christmas meal. Traditionally, the heart, liver, tongue, feet, ears and brains of the deer (a concoction known as the umbles), would be mixed together and made into a pie to give to the poor. This treat became known as humble pie.
And how about some entertainment? Whereas today we might go to see our children in a nativity play at Christmas, in the Middle Ages people could look forward to seeing the Mummers. These travelling actors performed plays and dances in villages, manors, and castles. During the winter, mystery plays were traditionally based on the story of Christ’s birth. The part of King Herod within these plays was the first role that can be seen as being the equivalent of a ‘baddie’ in a modern day pantomime, with the crowd often booing when he came on stage.
I hope these few Christmas blasts from the past have made you smile!
If you’d like to read my medieval mystery adventures, then you can find all the links at www.jenniferash.co.uk
Mathilda of Twyford’s adventure starts in The Outlaw’s Ransom –
Happy reading everyone,
Jennifer (aka Jenny!!) xx