The Tudor Twelve Days of Christmas
by Tony Riches, Author of The Tudor Trilogy
Christmas in Tudor times was a series of religious festivals, as the twelve days from December 25th to January 6th included a number of important saint’s days, with the greatest feasts being held on the New Year’s Day and the Twelfth Night.
Advent, leading up to Christmas was a time of fasting and prayer, particularly on Christmas Eve when no meat, eggs or cheese were allowed, so the twelve days of Christmas were a good excuse for work to stop (except for servants) until the first Monday after Twelfth Night.During the Twelve Days, people shared ‘minced pyes’ made with thirteen ingredients to representing Christ and his apostles. These usually included dried fruits and spices, with chopped mutton as a tribute to the shepherds of the Nativity.
King Henry VIII was one of the first people to eat turkey at Christmas – as a ‘Christmas Pie’ in a thick pastry crust. The turkey was stuffed with a goose stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a pigeon, served with side orders or small birds and wild fowl!
Tudors kings and queens also ate swan, venison, peacock and wild boar, which was often a centrepiece, with its tusks gilded and olives for eyes. in 1588, Henry’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I decreed that everyone should eat goose for Christmas, as it was her first meal after the Spanish Armada and should be a tribute to the English sailors who saw off the Spanish invaders. (Unfortunately, few could afford a goose.)
Tudor commoners liked to drink ‘Wassail’ at Christmas, a wooden bowl of punch made from boiled ale, sweetened with sugar and spice. When shared with friends and neighbours, a stale crust of bread left in the Wassail bowl was presented to the most important person in the room – the origin of proposing a ‘toast’ when drinking in company.
On December 26th, the feast of St. Stephen, Tudors gave left over food (often kitchen scraps) to the poor. On December 27th they celebrated in the name of St. John the Evangelist and December 28th was the feast of the Holy Innocents. The Tudors were sometimes entertained by travelling ‘mummers’ acting out the stories of the children being murdered by King Herod.
The Tudors gave each other presents on New Year’s Day. Important people of the Tudor Court would offer the king a New Year gift and have one in return. Henry VII kept a list of all his gifts on a ‘Gift Roll’, a tradition which lasted for two generations. The women of King Henry VIII’s court gave him shirts they had embroidered.
A ‘Lord of Misrule’ was often chosen at Christmas and ruled the festivities until Epiphany. King Henry VII encouraged his court to enjoy turning the usual order on its head, and even allowed a ‘Bishop of Misrule’ to mock the church. (This was banned in 1541 to prevent mocking the new head of the church – King Henry VIII.)
About the Author
Tony Riches is a full time author of best-selling historical fiction and non-fiction books. His latest novel, JASPER – Book Two of The Tudor Trilogy, can be found on Amazon UK Amazon US and Amazon AU. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his popular blog, The Writing Desk and his WordPress website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.