Monday, December 10, 2012

Medieval Christmas

I’ve been doing a little research and delving into the sometimes weird, but kind of cool Medieval Christmas. I thought I would share a few points.

The word 'Christmas' was first recorded as ‘Cristes Maesse’ in 1038 AD in a book from Saxon England.

Holy Innocents Day also known as Childermass falls on the 28th December. Religious tradition says it marks the Massacre of the Innocents, and how King Herod ordered the slaughter of all the male children in Bethlehem. In medieval England, children were often beaten on this day, in remembrance of Herod’s cruelty. Yep, I can really see how that would make for a happy Christmas celebration! Anyway, the 28th December was seen as a day of bad luck. So much so, Edward IV refused to be crowned on the day and no one would enter into marriage, begin building or any new venture.
Wassail comes from the Old English words waes hael, which means ‘be well,’ ‘be hale,’ or ‘good health.’ A strong, hot drink (usually a mixture of ale, honey, and spices) would be put in a large bowl, and the host would lift it and greet his companions with ‘waes hael,’ to which they would reply ‘drinc hael,’ which meant 'drink and be well'.

The Anglo-Norman Carol is said to be one of the earliest sung carols. Reportedly it was discovered in a 13th century manuscript, and is thought to belong to a group of travelling troubadours.  Below is the modern English transcript.

Lordings, Listen to our Lay

Lordings, listen to our lay --
We have come from far away
To seek Christmas;
In this mansion we are told
He his yearly feast doth hold;
'Tis t-day!
May joy come from God above,
To all those who Christmas love.

 Lordings, I now tell you true,
Christmas bringeth unto you
Only mirth;
His house he fills with many a dish
Of bread and meat and also fish,
To grace the day.
May joy come from God above,
To all those who Christmas love.

 Lordings, through our army's band
They say -- who spends with open hand
Free and fast,
And oft regals his many friends --
God gives him double what he spends
To grace the day.
May joy come from God above,
To all those who Christmas love.

Lordings, wicked men eschew,
In them never shall you view
Aught that's good;
Cowards are the rable rout,
Kick and beat the grumblers out,
To grace the day.
May joy come from God above,
To all those who Christmas love.

 To English ale and Gascon wine,
And French, doth Christmas much incline
And Anjou's, too;
He makes his neighbour freely drink
So that in sleep his head doth sink
Often by day.
May joy come from God above,
To all those who Christmas love.

 Lords, by Christmas and the host
Of this mansion hear my toast --
Drink it well --
Each must drain his cup of wine,
And I the first will toss off mine:
Thus I advise.
Here then I bid you all Wassail,
Cursed be he who will not say, Drinkhail.
May joy come from God above,
To all those who Christmas love.

The winter festivities began on All Hallows Eve, and the medieval Christmas celebrations incorporated the twelve days of Christmas, which started on Christmas Eve and finished on the Twelfth Night, the eve of the Epiphany.

The Lord of Misrule symbolizes a world turned upside down. On this day the nobility would become the peasants and vice versa. During the Twelfth Night festival, a cake that contained a bean or trinket was eaten. The person who found the bean/trinket would rule the feast. At midnight the Lord of Misrule’s reign would end. The common theme was that the normal order of things was reversed. This Lord of Misrule tradition dates back to pre-Christian European festivals such as the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia.

In my latest story, I borrowed a little of the medieval Christmas cheer (whilst ignoring the odd custom of Childermass altogether). Misrule’s Mistress is set over the Twelve Days of Christmas and ends with the Feast of Misrule. Misrule’s Mistress will be released on the 20th December by Pink Petal Books.


Misrule’s Mistress

She has refused him once but with a golden ring, the Feast of Misrule and a little cunning, Lord Barric Cranley intends to catch his bride.
Sources -
The Great British Christmas by Maria Hubert.
Manner and Customs in the Middle Ages by Marsha Groves.
The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer.
Images from Public Domain


Ella Quinn said...

Thank you for teaching me more about Christmas than I knew before. Lovely post.

Cassandra Samuels said...

Great post Nicole. I love learning new things about Christmas. Thank you.

Nicole Hurley-Moore said...

Thanks Ella, I'm so glad you liked it.

Nicole Hurley-Moore said...

Thanks Cassandra for taking the time to drop by.

Cathleen Ross said...

Thank you for this post. My daughter and I laughed about the custom of beating children. Not our idea of Christmas spirit.

Nicole Hurley-Moore said...

Hi Cathleen.
No, it's not a tradition that leaves you with warm
and fuzzy Christmas feelings!

Cheryl Leigh said...

The peasants must have enjoyed the Lord of Misrule. :)

Thanks for such an interesting post, Nicole.

Nicole Hurley-Moore said...

Thanks Cheryl :)

Allison Butler said...

Hi Nicole,

Thanks for this fascinating and timely post. The Childermass custom sounds dreadful *shudder* But the Lord of Misrule sounds like fun:)

Best wishes for the release of 'MISRULE'S MISTRESS'

Nicole Hurley-Moore said...

Thanks so much, Allison. :)

Anonymous said...

Sorry I'm late Nicole, Wonderfully interesting post about Misrules and your Story sounds great too.