Those of us who have always been intrigued by history often find ourselves saying [wistfully] “if only I had a time machine…”. We wonder how it would have been like living in different periods in the past, maybe because we just love dreaming about random things, but perhaps more so because we get so excited about mysteries, stories, and learning about something new.
Then Christmas time comes and we get excited about Christmas but we’re still excited about history and so we start searching for things like “What the Tudors ate for Christmas” and “Victorian Christmas trees”, jumbling Christmas and History together.
At first, the two words might not seem to be connected, but when you consider how although Christmas was also celebrated in the past, it all makes sense. What follows afterwards is the question “Was Christmas celebrated before 100, 200, even 500 years?” and when you realise the answer is “yes!”, that’s when you become really enlivened and interested, because in different parts of the world, in different centuries, people had their own unique traditions.
Since we have been reading and writing about the Tudors and Shakespeare this year, I thought it would be interesting to show you how the Tudors celebrated Christmas. If you are revising and need justification to have a little bit of fun whilst learning, this is the one for you.
1. Goose at Christmas time
According to C N Trueman:
Today, goose, though less popular than turkey (which, Trueman tells us, was first “being brought to Europe was in 1519”) is actually still being served on Christmas tables. An alternative to the traditional turkey, and one with history too! The Tudors did not stop there, though, Trueman reveals, writing about their Christmas pie:“The contents of this dish consisted of a Turkey stuffed with a goose stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a pigeon. All of this was put in a pastry case, called a coffin and was served surrounded by jointed hare, small game birds and wild fowl”. I have to admit, right now, I don’t think I could survive this part of Tudor traditions, especially as the Tudors ate a lot more than a Turkey and a pie. How they could manage to eat half of what Trueman just described is beyond me. Wendy Pyatt tells us that “Advent was a time of fasting” and I can definitely see why! Hopefully, the Tudors had other ways to celebrate that don’t require a big pre-Christmas diet…
And they do!
Although feasting took up a large part of the festivities, thankfully, the Tudors had several ways to celebrate Christmas without having to eat a week’s worth of food in one day. Carol singing, for example, is an easy, Tudor-approved Christmas tradition. As Ben Johnson writes, “Carols flourished throughout Tudor times as a way to celebrate Christmas and to spread the story of the nativity”. He also points out a little-known fact: “The earliest recorded published collection of carols is in 1521, by Wynken de Worde which includes the Boars Head Carol.”
Wendy Pyatt tells us that “Other Christmas carols the Tudors would have been familiar with include The Coventry Carol, While Shepherds Watched, The First Nowell, Angels from the Realms of Glory… In Dulci Jubilo, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas”.
3. Christmas boughs.
Jenni Black, in her lovely blog English Heritage gives us an insight into another way to recreate our very own Tudor Christmas: by creating a Christmas Bough…
The best part of this? You can make your very own Christmas Bough! Jenni teaches you how, in a simple step-by-step guide, which you can find at: http://blog.english-heritage.org.uk/how-to-make-traditional-tudor-christmas-decorations/
4. Performing plays
Pyatt writes about how “There are records from the early 16th century that both Oxford and Cambridge colleges employed travelling players in their Christmas entertainments. There are also records of a play being performed for Cardinal Wolsey at Grays Inn during Christmas 1526. Coventry mystery plays which the Coventry carol was written for, tell the story of Herod’s murder of the innocents. Mystery plays are still performed in Coventry even today”, which is perfect for all the readers out there who already love watching, writing and/or performing in plays. I think it is the excitement and apprehension that you experience when you are performing in a play, or even watching it, that makes it so special, more so when it is Christmas-themed, which is probably why this is my favorite Tudor Christmas tradition. If you are a Literature student, it’s also a great way to revise in an enjoyable way! The only problem with that is getting carried away watching different versions of plays and ending up using them a little to many times to justify not doing any work until it’s too late! Take that from experience…
5. Mince pies
If you don’t feel up to the challenge of eating a Tudor pie, but still want to enjoy something edible that the tudors would have eaten, mince pies might be the thing for you. The Tudor Tattler informs us that “Minced pies were enjoyed by Tudors from the lowliest peasants to the King and his court… [they] were made with thirteen ingredients to represent Christ and his apostles… Often times, pies were shaped like a crib (to represent the Christ child) or decorated with a crib or infant child”.
The thirteen ingredients included lamb, veal, brown sugar, raisins, currants, orange, lemon, ground cloves, ground nutmeg, ground mace, black pepper, dates and individual pie crusts. Don’t worry about memorising this, though!- you can find the recipe at: http://www.thetudortattler.com/2011/12/twelve-days-of-tudor-christmas-feasting.html
So here we are- 5 simple ways to Celebrate Christmas like the Tudors would have done. Actually, what I find interesting is that all of these traditions are very similar to those still practiced today. It just goes to show how much the past still seems to live on here in the present- whether in literature, art, music, or, as seen here, in tradition. If you want to know more about celebrating Christmas like a Tudor, I would recommend watching A Tudor Feast at Christmas. It is a fantastic documentary, and although it’s true that the Tudors would not have been able to watch documentaries, I feel that recreating the Tudor Christmas is not as much about trying to make it perfect, exactly like it would have been in the past, as it is about simply having a little fun (we all need it!) and doing something different.