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December 2011 Meeting

The Tudor Christmas


This was a real Christmas Cracker of an evening. Paul Harding from Discover History in Worcester, spoke about the 16th century Christmas. In his own words, “Christmas reached its peak under the Tudors”, and that’s what members received – a rip-roaring 16th century feast with all the trimmings.

 Speaking for a full hour without a pause, he described midwinter practices from the Roman Saturnalia to the present day. He demonstrated how midwinter celebrations had improved from ancient times until the 16th century; to be debased ever since

Only the Tudors, it seems, set the celebrations in the context of the cold winter season and their religious significance. They followed the religious season of Advent, a time of fasting and preparation for the depth of winter. Hospitality was now offered to visitors, warming fires were lit, and the log and the greenery brought into the house symbolised light and life. All the trappings of Christmas: holly, ivy, and mistletoe signified warmth, new birth and fertility. The Yule log was set to burn throughout the twelve days of celebration, and needed to be large enough to fulfil its purpose.

With the scene now set, Paul lingered mouth-wateringly over the details of the meal and the food and drink offered to the different classes of guest. It is perhaps surprising how many present-day Christmas foods were already known in 16th century England. Witht the new colonies set up, potatoes and sweets such as marzipan had found their way on to tables.  Goose was still the predominant Christmas bird. Turkey was regarded as a strange-looking creature and it had not yet become a popular dish.

Paul then turned his thoughts to the conventions of a Tudor Christmas. The layout of the tables, the food served, the drink and the entertainment all were covered, and no self- respecting Bidford historian will ever again now go about his or her business at this time of year without carrying a spoon for use if invited in for a meal (and won’t outstay their welcome after the Mummers have performed on Twelfth Night).  

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