Wednesday, October 9, 2019

II - Tudor Christmas Traditions

The Tudor Christmas was more than just a celebration. It was a time of festivity to lift the feelings the people. It was to celebrate the light, the Winter Solstice, the longest night and when days would be getting longer. The practice of bringing greenery into the house, was symbolic of bringing life into the house.

All that said, many of the Christmas traditions of earlier times (and more) were carried on during  the Tudor era, and are still enjoyed today. They include:

  • Yule Log
  • Wassailing
  • Christmas Carols
  • Mistletoe
  • Mince Pies (pyes)
  • The Christmas Pie
  • Father Christmas
  • Gift Giving

One of those is the Yule Log. The origins of the Yule Log date back to the Viking invaders burning bon fires on a beach to celebrate the winter solstice. The Tudors would get a log and decorate it with ribbons, then light it on Christmas eve. The log would be kept lit during the 12 days of Christmas. To ensure good luck throughout the year, part of the charred remains (or ashes) would be saved to use with the following year's log.

A popular Christmas carol of today is Here we Come a Wassailing. Wassailing was another tradition that could be credited to the Tudors. A more organized tradition than before, celebrants would go from house to house singing holiday songs. While doing so they would share a communal bowl filled with Wassail. The word 'Wassail' originates from the old Anglo-Saxon toast 'waes hael', meaning “be well” or “be in good health.”
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All this brings up Christmas Carols, another tradition from the Tudor times. The word "carol' is derived from Latin caraula or the French carole, the meaning of both being – a dance with a song. While there is no longer dancing, there is caroling. Generally the verses of the songs referred to the nativity.
Another Tudor Christmas tradition was telling ghost stories, especially on Christmas Eve. That night being during the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, when it was believed spirits could walk the Earth.
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Mistletoe was included in the 'Kissing Bough' to represent fertility.
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Mince pies (pyes) made of 13 ingredients representing Jesus and the 12 disciples were served at holiday meals.

And, there was the 'Christmas Pie', the roots of today's 'Turduckin'. Of all the things we associate with today's Christmas, Father Christmas or Santa Claus, is probably at the top of the list. Once again, this tradition was well established by the Tudor period. However, it goes back much earlier than that. 

The Saxons (410 until 1066) celebrated the onset of winter in the guise of ‘King Winter’(also referred to as ‘Father Time’). Once again the Vikings played a role in establishing the tradition. They would celebrate the god Woden, aka – ‘Yule-Father’. The word 'Yule' goes back to the pagan Winter Festivals celebrated by people in Scandinavia. Yule Father left gifts of bread and much goodwill during Yule.

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Another throw back to the days of the Tudors was the tradition of gift giving. Simple gifts were exchanged among the peasants. The royal Tudors, however, were known to exchange more elaborate gifts - a set of 'Pyrenean boar spears' from Anne Boleyn to King Henry VIII or a gold cup from Catherine of Aragon to her husband, Henry the VIII - which he rejected. There are stories of gems, jewelry, and money.

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