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HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM ALEKSANDR VOINOV
Hi, I’m Aleksandr Voinov, once a reviewer at this brilliant blog and now pretty much only author and publisher (and co-owner of Riptide Publishing ). Speak Its Name and I go way back, so I’m really pleased to have been invited to open up the advent calendar this year.
And while the real world is extremely busy – so busy that I don’t yet have an Christmas feeling – I always find it useful to look back in history and consider how we got where we are now. (I’m a historian by training, “looking back” is my default setting.) In any case, I did a little bit of digging and reading about Christmas in my favourite historical period, so to set things off, I’m just sharing some bits that I found interesting. At the end of the post, I’ll do a giveaway.
Seven things you might not have known about Medieval Christmas
1. In medieval England, since ca 600 AD, there were actually three Masses celebrated on “Christ’s Mass” (where the word comes from). People celebrated the Angel’s Mass at midnight, to celebrate the light of salvation appearing at the darkest hour of the darkest date right in the middle of winter. The second, Shepherd’s Mass was at dawn, and the third, the Mass of the Divine Word, during the day. Personally, I shudder to think of trudging to an (unheated) church in the bitter cold at night or at dawn. Our ancestors were well hardcore like that.
2. Just like today, food is important, and people celebrated according to their means (no maxed-out credit cards back in the Middle Ages!). Common to the banquet in Medieval England was the Yule boar – the real deal for those who could afford it (that is, hunt it and kill it, which in itself is quite an operation), or, if you weren’t hunting nobility, a pie shaped like a boar would have to do.
3. Gift giving during the festive period is actually a Roman custom. Romans used to give each other New Year gifts, and that custom survived into Christian times and was moved a little forward later on, but gift-giving at Christmas isn’t a medieval custom, but much later. In medieval times, celebration would likely be games (backgammon, cards, chess), acting, carol-dances (also pagan!) and lots and lots of eating.
4. If you’re a corporate slave (sorry, the term is full-time employed) like me, you might feel a bit short-changed by your employer giving you only two days off for Christmas. In medieval times, Christmas continued until 6 January, Epiphany on the 12th day after Christmas – which celebrates the visit of the Wise Men. The Monday after Epiphany is when hard work began anew—it’s Plough Monday, when ploughing starts again.
5. And to the free-time starved Americans, cover your eyes now. Our ancestors not necessarily stopped celebrating Christmas after 12 days. Some carried on for a total of forty days until 2 February – another pagan custom that I love the idea of. It’s a very attractive notion to lead up to Christmas with the forty-day fast during Advent and then celebrate for forty says right after. Perfect balance, I’m sure you agree.
6. If you stop celebrating on 2 February, that’s Candlemas or the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, or the Presentation of the Infant Jesus in the Temple. In medieval times, people headed to church on Candlemas with a penny and a candle, both of which were given to the priest. People also received candles—which would be used to comfort them during dangerous or critical times like thunderstorms or even on their sick/deathbeds.
7. In the early Middle Ages, Christmas was actually the beginning of the papal year (makes perfect sense to me—and apparently Germany kept to that longest). That day being highly symbolic anyway, some kings were crowned on Christmas, like Charlemagne in 800 and William of Normandy (“William the Conqueror”) in 1066. Having everybody important together in one place for Christmas anyway certainly helped organizing a coronation, I’d think.
That brings me to the end—hope there was at least one thing you didn’t know. And feel free to take some inspiration from it (where do I get a boar?), though I’d wager showing up at work on 2 February might be hard to explain.
Advent Calendar Giveaway!
To celebrate Christmas in style, I’m giving away three copies (e-books OR paper, your choice) of my latest historical release, Skybound (review here)
The BONUS BUMPER PRIZE QUESTION (don’t answer this – just save them up for Christmas Eve.)
Which is true of the Jerusalem Artichoke?
(a) It is an artichoke, but is not from Jerusalem
(b) It is not an artichoke, but is from Jerusalem
(c) It is neither an artichoke, nor is it from Jerusalem