Tuesday, December 15, 2015

An Old fashioned Christmas: Really old, Medieval Style.

Many people reminisce about having a good old fashioned Christmas. They long for simpler times when Christmas was less commercialized; although I do agree with this, you really do not want to go back to a Christmas they had in medieval times.

Of course during the middle ages in Europe, you wanted to be a Christian. Anyone else, who worshiped a different religion, was persecuted.

After Christians took over Spain, the Muslim community was given a choice; basically be killed, or forcibly exiled from the country, or be converted. Others, that stayed in Europe, such as the Jews, were persecuted.

The Jewish community also suffered extreme hardships during the middle ages.  Rumors were prevalent throughout Europe that the Jews were engaging in “Blood Libel”. Blood Libel was an accusation that the Jews were kidnapping children and use their blood during Jewish holidays. As crazy as this story may seem, the Catholic Church actually canonized many of the so called victims of these blood libels. The Jews were also blamed for wells going dry, to even the plague.

So let us now get back to the celebration of a Medieval Christmas.

We must first examine why Christmas is on December 25th, .   The exact date of Jesus’s birth is lost in history, so why do we celebrate it when we do?

Pagans in Europe celebrated the winter solstice (December 20-23, this date can change), by feasting and other celebrations. Feeding farm animals could be difficult to calculate over the winter. If you ran out of grain during the winter, your entire livestock could starve to death. Feasting in December made perfect sense to remove extra or unwanted animals.  Christians were trying to compete with their pagan neighbors. Celebrating the savior’s birth near the solstice may have originated in an effort to convert others to Christianity.

Many celebrated Christmas on January 7th; however, these people were using the old Julian calendar. When this calendar was replaced by the Gregorian calendar the date was changed to December 25. Many Orthodox Christian churches still celebrate January 7th.  In this effort to consolidate the holidays to the Gregorian calendar that the Council of Tours established the Christmastide, or Twelvetide, or commonly referred to as the 12 days of Christmas. To be honest, the time for celebrating Christmas gets really confusing based on different regions and sects of Christianity.

The word Christmas comes from the English word “Cristemasse”, first recorded in 1038. The word Christmas was not commonly used until William the Conqueror was crowned king of England on December 25, 1066. This inauguration celebration got a little crazy; because so many people were cheering, the guards thought there was a riot so they began attacking the crowd and burning down nearby houses.

Today, we are all used to seeing the nativity consisting of a manger with the wooden crib inside. This decoration started with Saint Francis of Assisi in 1223, which used the crib to describe the story of the birth of Jesus. The animals in the manger were later added, even though there is no mention of them in the bible.

If you were poor, Christmas was not that great of a day. Christmas was considered to be a “quarter day”, this was the day the poor paid the lords for their rent.

December 28th would also have been a day which terrified children during the Middle Ages. This day is recognized by many during the middle ages as “Childermass Day” or “Innocents Day”. This was the day that King Herod had ordered all children less than 2 years of age to be murdered. To make sure they would remember this story, children were beaten on this day.

Speaking of children at Christmas, refer back to my post last year about the Krampus. I will also have an updated post about his story next week.

 We all enjoy Christmas carols during this time of year (or tired of them because that is all you hear on the radio). During a period in the medieval ages the Catholic Church would not allow carols to be sung in church, so people began singing them from door to door.

In my sequel to “Legend of the Mystic Knights” I added several of these historical facts above.  There was another historical tidbit I wanted to add to this novel; during the middle ages, at Christmas time, it was normal for the rich to give small amounts of money to the poor. They put the coin in a small clay pot, which had a slit in the top.  These pots were known as pyggy’s (Pygg is an orange colored clay commonly used during the Middle Ages), over the years the name changed to piggy and we changed the pots to resemble pigs and now we have piggy banks.

Let us now look at the Christmas tree. This is a tradition which is credited to the Germans (even though using fir trees date back to the early Vikings and Romans). The Christmas tree is often associated with Saint Boniface and the conversion of the German pagans who worshipped an oak tree. Saint Boniface cut down the oak tree and replaced it with an evergreen, thinking the triangle shape of the tree would teach them about the trinity.

Many medieval people celebrated “Adam and Eve Day”, which is December 24th. This day has often celebrated with a play which told the story of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden. They would take a tree into the center of a town (representing the tree of life), and decorate it with apples to signify the forbidden fruit.  Sometime later it was tradition for the tree to be taken into homes, and later the apples were replaced by shiny red balls.

In the 16th century, Martin Luther was said to be the first to add lighted candles to an evergreen tree. This tradition continued throughout the centuries, even though it did result in many homes being burnt to the ground, until the candles were replaced by electric lights.

Speaking of Christmas trees, it often makes me wonder how we accepted the Christmas tree especially after I read Jeremiah 10:1-4 in the Bible (King James Version).

“Hear ye the word which the Lord speaketh unto you, O house of Israel: Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.

For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.  They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.”

I hope you enjoyed our little trip to a Christmas time in the medieval age. Remember, most of our celebrations, we have today are based on old traditions; even though we may have forgotten what the original traditions represented.

At this time of year, we should always remember those who have less than us, those who cannot celebrate the holiday. If you are contemplating in giving to those less fortunate, remember the last line from the carol Good King Wenceslas: “Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing, Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”


Next Week: The Krampus visits your house. (I’m serious, he is coming to your house, and I don’t know what you can do to stop him)


  1. I always love reading about the roots of our modern holidays. It just goes to show how one influence builds upon another. What we know today as Christmas is a relatively new phenomenon shaped by consumers.

  2. I knew something of the history of Christmas but the darker side of the celebration is definitely new to me, especially the thing about beating the kids. For better or worse, gotta say I'm not really surprised though. Very enlightening - as always. Thanks William!

  3. William, amazing the origin of Christmas and how things kept being added to it. I did not know about the darker side - the killing of Muslims, the persecution of Jews, the beating of children. Horrible.
    I loved the way you ended this with a reminder to give. Merry Christmas, William and all the best in 2016.

  4. Great post! I knew some of these historical facts but I didn't know about St. Francis and the manger. I may have my kids read this so they can appreciate that they were born now and not in the medieval times. =) Thanks for sharing your research.

  5. As a lifelong follower and friend of yours, I admire your writing and detail in the holidays traditions. Jackie Paulson

  6. Another fascinating post, William! This may be too personal a question, or perhaps off base, but I'll ask it anyway. Have you ever had a reading done that delved into your past lives? It really seems to me that you must have had some personal experiences in Medieval times. Some of those readings really reveal a lot of amazing information as to why we are obsessed or fascinated with a time gone by. Cheers for a wonderful Christmas, no matter how you celebrate it.

  7. Two quick points:
    (1) Given that no one knows when Jesus's birthdate really was, maybe we should treat Christmas like Thanksgiving, i.e., just make it the 4th Thursday of December, and then give (most) everyone the following Friday off so as to have a 4-day weekend. Wouldn't that make more sense?
    (2) Christmas trees are "vain"? Oh goodness, what would the Lord think about competitive Christmas lights displays? (There's even a "Great Christmas Light Fight" reality TV show, can you believe that?)

  8. As much as I would like to get rid of the commercial aspect of Christmas I really don't want to switch time back to the Middle Ages. Isn't it only ISIS that are keen to do so?:-)

    1. Funny thing about that, they may want to try to return to those days, but are probably unaware what those days were like.
      If in fact, you had to live in the Dark/Middles ages, you would want to live in the middle east, not Europe. There culture, education, science was more advances then the Europeans. It was the crusades, where the knights were exposed to this culture, that began trade to those areas, and hence bringing the forgotten knowledge of the Greeks and Romans that was lost during the dark ages.

  9. Lets hope we are not heading backwards in terms of our religious tolerance. How many millions have been murderd because they were of a different religion?

  10. Interesting, William. I was just pondering the Christmas tree thing. I am a Christian and was raised in a household that celebrated Jesus and Santa Claus. There was never a conflict between the two--my parents made it very clear to us what each was about (thank you, Mom & Dad).

    But the tree part...I forget that from time to time so thanks for the lesson.

  11. I didn't know any of this history. I'm glad this isn't the middle ages anymore. The children would hate December 28th every year.

  12. I so enjoy this post, William--thanks for re-sharing it. So much behind the scenes history that I don't know about!