Medieval Christmas Decorations

Published: Wednesday 20th December 2017 by Courtney Farrow

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Have you put up your Christmas tree yet? We’ve rustled up some inspiration from our medieval ancestors.

Renovating your home in time for the 25th is a longstanding tradition in England. In fact, at the Hull and East Riding Museum, you can see decorative floor tiles that date back to the thirteenth century. Embellished with fleur-de-lis, animals, birds and even human figures, these charming additions were extremely fashionable in many homes during the Middle Ages.

For example, the one above was found at Watton Priory and dates back to the 1200s. It is thought that, before this, floor tiles would have been kept fairly plain, but as craft skills improved and production costs declined, more and more people were able to have them in their homes.

Burning of the Yule Log

Although this custom has slowly faded away, the burning of the Yule log was a key part of Christmastime back then. It originated from the druid tradition of blessing a log and keeping it burning for the twelve days during the winter solstice. Vikings had a Yule log too, but they would carve runes into them that represented unwanted traits they wished the gods to take away.

Munching on mince pies

Yes, can you believe that mince pies are medieval? As Christian belief spread across England, the tasty pastry bites became increasingly popular. The cases that contained shredded or minced meat represented Jesus’s manger, and the three spices of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg are the gifts given to Christ.

Back then, it was thought to be lucky to eat one pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas, so tuck in!

Decorating the Christmas tree

The medieval church would adorn trees with apples on Christmas Eve to remember the story of Adam and Eve; however, the evergreens would remain outside. Bringing a tree indoors to decorate only became a thing in sixteenth century Germany. Here, fir trees would be trimmed with paper flowers and eventually burned at a great feast.

Christmas carolling

During the later Middle Ages, Christmas songs were a much-loved way of celebrating the season. At the time, the church actually frowned upon carolling, but as time went by and the songs became more in line with Christian teaching, the new music was accepted.

One of the most popular songs, The Twelve Days of Christmas, is believed to have started out as a game. The aim was to add your own lines to the song and repeat the previously sung verses.

Pantomimes and Nativity plays

This kind of entertainment is still adored in the twenty-first century by families across the world. Back then, pantomimes were casual plays without words and involved an actor or actress dressing up as the opposite gender to act out comedy stories. In the meantime, the story of the birth of Christ would be told in churches to spread the word.

How will you be celebrating the 25th? If you want to take a look at some of the medieval decorations for inspiration, head to the Hull and East Riding Museum on the High Street. It’s free to enter and open Monday through Saturday 10am-5pm and Sundays 11am-4:30pm.

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Published: Wednesday 20th December 2017 by Courtney Farrow

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