Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Joanne Rock: Medieval christmas

The medieval celebration of Christmas was a lengthier affair than we recognize today. The twelve days of Christmas began the day after Christmas and ran until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. The season was sometimes celebrated all the way to February 2nd when pagans celebrated Candlemas and Christians recognized the Presentation of the Infant Jesus in the Temple. Medieval Christmas traditions include an extended period of socializing and rejoicing in Christ’s gifts to humanity.

Speaking of gifts, this act of exchanging presents was not part of the medieval celebration although gifts were often exchanged at the New Year. Christmas Day was more apt to be marked by feasting, games and music. Later in the medieval period, the performance of mystery plays became popular at this time of year.

Medieval Christmas decorations incorporated holly, mistletoe and ivy or any other greenery available during the early days of winter. The burning of a Yule log is also an ancient tradition. A medieval lord might bring home a huge piece of wood to keep the tradition in the hope the same log would burn all through the day and night. This aspect of the Christmas season has roots in pagan recognition of the winter solstice and the celebration of the return of sun.

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