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Christmas-art - 9/9/09


"On Christmas in the Middle Ages" by Mistress Nicolaa de Bracton of Leicester.


NOTE: See also the files: Yule-msg, holidays-msg, holiday-gifts-lnks, 12th-nite-msg, Holiday-Celeb-lnks, crusades-msg, religion-msg, pilgrimages-msg, crusades-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.


Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



From: sclark at epas.utoronto.ca (Susan Carroll-Clark)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Nicolaa's articles #11

Date: 18 Jul 1994 20:53:24 GMT

Organization: University of Toronto -- EPAS


A brief overview of the development of Christmas...odd for July,

but interesting in a month or four...


On Christmas in the Middle Ages

--Nicolaa de Bracton of Leicester


Christmas as we know it is largely a Victorian development.  Such

traditions as the Christmas tree and Santa Claus or Father Christmas

are relatively recent in the grand scheme of things.  Yet we can

recognize in the Christmas of the late medieval period the ancestor of

our own celebration.  Most of the customs I will discuss are from

England, but some were common throughout Europe.


Until the late Middle Ages, the celebration of Christmas Day ranked

fairly low among the major festivals of the Christian world.  Twelfth

Night celebrations far surpassed the rather solemn, low key observance

of the birth of Christ, while more festive Yule celebrations

(originally a pagan observance) persisted into the Christian era.

However, beginning with the rise of the cult of the Virgin Mary in the

twelfth century, a trend can be discerned away from the importance of

local saints and towards emphasis on the major figures of the Church,

especially on the Holy Family.  The fourteenth and fifteenth century

cycle plays, presented in English towns by local guilds on or about

Corpus Christi day (a movable feast sometime between May 21 and June

24) were one result of this trend.  These plays focusing on the life

of Christ sometimes included elaborate stagings of the nativity.  Thus

began the first widespread popularization of the Christmas story in

England.  The first Christmas carols were also connected to the

performance of these plays.  We don't normally think of Christmas as a

midsummer tradition, but this, indeed, was its roots.


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.


The Christmas season was particularly marked by good cheer.

Households stood open and ready to welcome neighbors and visitors.   A

popular custom was mumming, in which revelers put on masks or the

clothes of the opposite sex and, accompanied by minstrels and

musicians, traveled from house to house.  Another custom (practiced

particularly in the universities) was the appointment of a Lord of

Misrule, who, dressed in gaudy  or outrageous clothing, presided over

the holiday merriment with the pomp due an actual monarch. The Lord

of Misrule sometimes led revelers on wild nighttime processions

through town, which of course angered the resident church leaders.

However,  churchmen had their own form of this custom--the appointment

as a young boy as bishop for the holiday season.  As you may have

noticed, the holiday season was well-known for role reversal;  in

fact, the custom of lords serving their servants for a day was quite

common.  Lords usually chose this time to bestow gifts upon their

servants;  a common present was a new suit of clothes. The Christmas

season in the Middle Ages and Renaissance was, as it is today, a

welcome escape from everyday cares.




Ashton, John.  _A Righte Merrie Christmasse _.  (New York, 1968)


Brand, John.  _Popular Antiquities of Great Britain_. (London, 1853.)


The author also thanks Prof. E.R. Rose for his enlightening information.


Copyright 1994 by Susan Carroll-Clark, 10 Markbrook Lane #1106, Etobicoke, ON M9V 5E3 CANADA. Permission granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided author is credited and receives a copy.


<the end>


Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org