Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

Search this blog

Sunday, December 09, 2012

A Tudor Christmas

Last year I wrote about the Christmas traditions of other countries. This year I thought I would step back in time to look at the Tudor Christmas.

I'm fascinated by the Tudor period, and knowing how devout they were, I imagined their Christmas would revolve around church with the rich enjoying a "bird within a bird within a bird" roast.

There would be no Christmas trees - this didn't start until Prince Albert popularised them in Victorian times - or "Father Christmas," who came along courtesy of the Coca Cola company.

The Tudors' Christmas festival lasted from December 25 to January 6. Some fasting was required as preparation, so on Christmas Eve they didn't eat meat, cheese or eggs. As a bonus, they didn't work during this period except for those who had to look after animals. Flowers were wrapped around spinning wheels to stop women from working.

Christmas Day was a busy time for Henry VIII. He had to go to Mass three times and was expected to wear new clothes. He banned any sports taking place on Christmas Day except for jousting and archery.


During the 12 Days of Christmas people visited friends and relatives and shared "mince pyes,"identical to the mince pies we enjoy today. They had 13 ingredients representing Christ and the apostles.

Tudor Pie
They did indeed enjoy a bird within a bird ---- in the form of a Tudor pie. This was traditionally a turkey stuffed with a goose stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a pigeon. It was made into a pie. Turkey was made popular by Henry VIII who was one of the first Britons to eat one at Christmas.

Feasts were accompanied by the "wassail bowl" of punch. A piece of bread was soaked at the bottom and always given to the most important person in the room, becoming the tradition of toasting.

The Tudors also had a Christmas pudding, but it was shaped like a sausage and contained meat and spices.

Presents and carols

Gifts were not exchanged until New Year's Day. Carols were popular in Tudor times as a way of spreading the story of the Nativity. Celebrations came to an abrupt end in the 17th century when the Puritans banned Christmas. Carols became extinct until Victorian times.

Other traditions

The kiss under the mistletoe harks back to the Tudor period. In the 15th century it became customary to create a "kissing bough" made of a bendy wood. An effigy of Christ was placed inside and the bough was hung in the house where the local priest would bless it. Anyone visiting the house would embrace under the bough to show they brought goodwill.

Further Reading
The Tudors Wiki
Historic UK
Local Histories


1 comment

Optimistic Existentialist said...

This was really interersting and informative! I love this blog :)

Blog Design Created by pipdig