medieval times christmas

Celebrating Christmas in the Medieval Era

Travel back in time to experience the charm and traditions of celebrating Christmas in the medieval era. From feasting and gift-giving to religious observances and festive entertainment, Christmas was a major holiday during this period, characterized by unique customs and festivities.

Key Takeaways:

  • The medieval era celebrated Christmas with unique traditions and festivities
  • Christmas was a major holiday during this period with cultural and religious significance
  • Feasting, gift-giving, religious observances, and entertainment were all important parts of medieval Christmas celebrations

The Importance of Christmas in Medieval Times

Christmas was one of the most important holidays of the medieval period, both culturally and religiously. While the exact traditions and customs varied depending on the region and social status, the celebration of Christmas was universally significant throughout medieval Europe.

The religious importance of Christmas cannot be overstated. In the medieval era, Christmas was seen as a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and as such was a central event in the Christian calendar. Churches held special services and processions, and people from all walks of life attended. The medieval period was a time of great piety, and Christmas was seen as an opportunity to celebrate and reaffirm one’s faith.

Alongside its religious importance, Christmas was also a time for families to come together. In a world without modern communication technologies, the holidays were one of the few times when people could reunite with loved ones who lived far away. For this reason, many people made a special effort to travel to be with their families during the Christmas season.

In addition to these more general themes, the traditions and customs associated with Christmas in medieval times were highly specific. For example, the Yule log and the hanging of mistletoe were both common traditions, as were the staging of plays and games. These customs varied from region to region, but all shared a central theme of communal celebration and goodwill.

The Significance of Christmas in Medieval Times

Overall, Christmas was a deeply meaningful time in the medieval period. Its religious and cultural significance made it one of the most important dates in the calendar, and the customs and traditions associated with the holiday were deeply ingrained in the collective consciousness of the time. Today, we can look back on these traditions with nostalgia and appreciation for the unique charm and warmth of the medieval Christmas season.

Medieval Christmas Decorations and Symbols

During medieval times, the Christmas season was filled with unique decorations and symbols that are still recognized today. Evergreen branches, holly, and ivy were popular ornaments, symbolizing life and hope during the winter months.

Decorated candles were also a common sight, representing the light of Christ. Additionally, the use of nativity scenes, depicting the birth of Jesus Christ, became popular during this time.

Colorful ribbons and fabrics were used to decorate homes and churches, with red and green being the most popular colors for Christmas decorations, symbolizing Christ’s blood and everlasting life.

The yule log was another important symbol of Christmas during the medieval era. The log was decorated with evergreen branches and lit on Christmas Eve, with the embers used to light the fireplace throughout the year until the following Christmas.

Other common decorations included mistletoe, which was hung as a symbol of peace and goodwill, and the Christmas rose, which symbolized the purity of the Virgin Mary. Lastly, the use of bells, trumpets, and other musical instruments added to the festive atmosphere of Christmas celebrations.

Feasting and Banquets during Medieval Christmas

The Christmas season in medieval times was a time of feasting and merriment. Great banquets were held in the halls of castles and manors, and the tables were laden with the finest food and drink.

The centerpiece of the medieval Christmas feast was often a roasted boar’s head, which symbolized the triumph of Christ over sin. Other dishes included roasted birds, such as swans and peacocks, spiced beef, and pies filled with fruits, spices, and minced meat. The wealthy also enjoyed exotic spices and imported delicacies, such as sugar and almonds.

Medieval Christmas Food Medieval Christmas Drink
Roasted boar’s head Spiced wine
Roasted birds Ale and mead
Spiced beef Warm cider
Pies with fruits and minced meat

Toasting and revelry were an important part of the medieval Christmas feast. Lords and ladies raised their glasses to each other, and musicians serenaded them with songs and instruments. Later in the evening, guests participated in dancing, games, and other forms of entertainment.

The Christmas feast was a time for socializing and sharing, where guests could relax and enjoy the bounty of the season. It was also a time for charity and generosity, as the wealthy distributed gifts to their less fortunate neighbors and servants.

Overall, the medieval Christmas feast was a celebration of abundance and community, where people came together to enjoy the pleasures of life and give thanks for the gifts of the season.

Ember Days and Advent Fasting

During the medieval era, the Christmas season was not only a time of feasting and celebration but also a time of religious observance. Two important traditions during this period were Ember Days and Advent fasting.

Ember Days were periods of prayer and fasting that occurred four times a year, with the winter Ember Days often coinciding with the Advent season. These days were seen as a time for spiritual reflection and self-discipline, with believers abstaining from certain foods and dedicating themselves to prayer and contemplation.

Advent fasting was another important tradition, with individuals and families choosing to abstain from meat and other rich foods in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This practice was seen as a way to prepare oneself for the birth of Christ and to demonstrate humility and piety.

Both Ember Days and Advent fasting played a significant role in shaping the Christmas season of the medieval era, emphasizing the importance of spiritual reflection and self-discipline alongside celebration and merriment.

Medieval Christmas Carols and Music

Music and singing played a significant role in the celebration of Christmas in the medieval era. Carols were a popular form of music during this time, blending religious themes with folk melodies. Many of the carols that were sung during the medieval era are still familiar to us today.

The earliest known English carol is “Angel’s Hymn,” which dates back to the 13th century. Other popular carols from this era include “The Holly and the Ivy,” “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen,” and “Deck the Halls.”

Church choirs were an integral part of medieval Christmas celebrations, performing elaborate and complex musical pieces during the Christmas season. These choirs were typically comprised of highly skilled musicians and singers, and their performances were highly anticipated by the community.

In addition to religious music, instrumental music was also enjoyed during Christmas in the medieval era. Medieval instruments such as the lute, harp, and recorder were commonly used to accompany the singing of carols and other festive songs.

Music was also a part of secular Christmas celebrations during the medieval era. Minstrels and troubadours would often perform for audiences, singing ballads and playing instruments to entertain the crowds.

Overall, music played a vital role in the celebration of Christmas in medieval times, with carols, choirs, and instrumental performances all adding to the festive spirit.

Medieval Christmas Traditions and Customs

Christmas in the medieval era was a time of unique and fascinating customs and traditions. These practices were steeped in religious and cultural significance, and they helped to create a sense of community and warmth during the dark and cold winter months.

One of the most distinctive customs of medieval Christmas was the role of mummers. These were actors who dressed up in costumes and performed plays or skits in public spaces. Mumming was a popular form of entertainment during the holiday season, and it often involved mocking or parodying authority figures or traditional social roles.

Another hallmark of medieval Christmas was the use of pageants. These were elaborate displays that featured scenes from the Nativity story or other religious tales. Pageants were often performed in public squares or churches, and they incorporated music, dance, and other elements of performance.

One of the most notable figures of medieval Christmas was the Lord of Misrule. This was an appointed official who presided over the festivities and had the power to make decisions and issue commands for the holiday season. The Lord of Misrule was often chosen from among commoners or servants, and his role was to symbolize the temporary inversion of social hierarchies during the holiday season.

Other common customs of medieval Christmas included the decoration of homes and churches with evergreen branches, holly, and ivy. These plants were thought to symbolize eternal life and renewal, and they were often used in wreaths, garlands, and other decorations. Feasting was also an important part of the holiday season, with elaborate banquets featuring roasted meats, pies, and other indulgent treats.

These customs and traditions helped to make medieval Christmas a rich and colorful time of year. From the boisterous mummers to the solemn pageants, the holiday season offered a range of experiences that brought communities together and celebrated the spirit of the season.

Gift-Giving in Medieval Times

The tradition of giving gifts during Christmas dates back to medieval times. It was believed that the Magi brought presents to the baby Jesus, and therefore gift-giving became a significant part of the Christmas celebration.

In the medieval era, gifts were given to show appreciation and love for family and friends. The type of gift given depended on the social class of the recipient. For example, peasants would give homemade gifts such as baskets of fruit and nuts, while nobles would give more expensive gifts like jewelry or clothing.

Gift Ideas for Different Social Classes in Medieval Times:
Peasants: Homemade gifts such as baskets of fruit and nuts, candles, or handmade clothing.
Merchants: Luxury items such as spices, silks, or exotic fruits.
Nobles: Expensive gifts such as jewelry, fur, or clothing imported from foreign countries.

Another common gift during medieval Christmas was a small gift of money, called a “Christmas box,” which was given to servants or tradesmen as a way of saying thank you for their services throughout the year.

Gift-giving during Christmas was not limited to family and friends. It was also a way for the wealthy to show their generosity to those less fortunate. Nobles and royalty would host feasts and distribute alms to the poor, providing them with a warm meal and some small gifts.

Overall, the tradition of giving gifts during Christmas in medieval times was a way of showing love, appreciation, and generosity. Whether it was a small homemade gift or an expensive piece of jewelry, the act of giving was an important part of the holiday celebration.

The Role of the Church in Medieval Christmas

The celebration of Christmas in the medieval era was deeply intertwined with the Church, with numerous religious observances taking place during this time.

One of the key religious observances during Christmas was the Advent fast, which lasted for four weeks leading up to Christmas. During this time, Christians were expected to abstain from certain foods and activities as a form of spiritual preparation for the birth of Jesus.

Another notable religious observance during Christmas in the medieval era was the Feast of St. Stephen, which was celebrated on December 26th. This feast commemorated the life and martyrdom of St. Stephen, and was often marked with special services and processions.

The Church also played an important role in the decoration of medieval Christmas celebrations. Many churches and cathedrals were adorned with festive decorations such as evergreen boughs, holly, and ivy. These decorations were intended to symbolize eternal life and the hope of the coming spring.

In addition to these religious observances, the Church also encouraged acts of charity and goodwill during Christmas. Many churches and monasteries opened their doors to the poor and needy, providing food and shelter during the cold winter months. This spirit of generosity and compassion was a core part of the medieval Christmas tradition, and helped to reinforce the bonds between individuals and their communities.

Overall, the Church played a central role in shaping the medieval Christmas tradition, both in terms of its religious observances and its social and cultural customs. From the Advent fast to the Feast of St. Stephen and beyond, the Church helped to create a rich and vibrant Christmas celebration that continues to inspire us to this day.

Medieval Christmas Entertainment and Games

Christmas in the medieval era was filled with festive entertainment and games. Minstrels, troubadours, and jesters were among the popular entertainers who graced the halls of castles and manors during the holiday season. Medieval Christmas entertainment was characterized by music, dance, and drama.

One popular Christmas game was the game of forfeits. It involved a player performing a task or answering a question correctly to avoid a forfeit, which could be anything from singing a song to performing a dance. Another popular game was snapdragon, where players had to retrieve raisins or other small objects from a bowl of hot, flaming brandy without getting burned.

The rich and powerful also enjoyed hunting during the Christmas season. The medieval tradition of the Yule Hunt involved a large group of hunters chasing wild animals such as deer and boar through the countryside. Falconry was also a popular activity during the holiday season.

Board games such as chess and backgammon were played during Christmas evenings, where friends and family members would gather around a roaring fire to enjoy each other’s company. Storytelling was also popular during this time, with tales of adventure and romance woven into the fabric of the holiday season.

Overall, Christmas in the medieval era was a time of merriment, joy, and celebration. The entertainment and games enjoyed during this time continue to inspire our modern-day festivities.

Christmas in the Medieval Court

While the celebrations of Christmas in the medieval era were enjoyed by all, the festivities at the royal court were particularly lavish. Royalty and nobility were known for their extravagant Christmas feasts and elaborate traditions.

During the medieval times, the Christmas season was a time for the wealthy to exhibit their wealth and social status. The court would be decorated with ornate decorations, including candles, statues, and tapestries.

Traditions and Activities Description
The Yule Log The Yule log was a large, oak log that was burned in the hearth. It was usually lit on Christmas Eve and allowed to burn throughout the night. It was believed that this would bring good luck for the coming year.
Feasting The Christmas feast was a grand affair that lasted throughout the twelve days of Christmas. The menu included exotic meats, roasted birds, and sweet pastries. The wine flowed freely, and entertainment was provided by jesters and minstrels.
Mumming and Pageants The court was also known for its mumming and pageants. These were elaborate plays featuring masked performers, who enacted biblical stories and tales of chivalry. They were often performed in the great hall of the castle.

The Lord of Misrule was also a popular tradition during Christmas in the medieval court. This was a court jester who was appointed to preside over the Christmas festivities. The Lord of Misrule was responsible for organizing the entertainment, and he often played practical jokes on the courtiers.

Overall, Christmas in the medieval court was a time of opulence and excess. It was a time for the wealthy to indulge in food, drink, and entertainment, and to demonstrate their power and status. The traditions and customs of the medieval court continue to fascinate us today, and they continue to inspire our modern-day celebrations of Christmas.


Christmas in the medieval era was a time of great significance, both culturally and religiously. From the elaborate feasts and banquets to the unique customs and traditions, there was a charm and magic to celebrating Christmas during this time that is still felt today.

As we look back on medieval times Christmas, we are reminded of the importance of family, community, and faith. The decorations, music, and festivities that characterized this period continue to inspire us, and we can learn a lot from the ways in which our ancestors celebrated this special holiday.

So as Christmas approaches, take a moment to appreciate the traditions and customs that have been passed down through the ages, and remember the unique charm and magic of celebrating Christmas in the medieval era.

Thank you for joining us on this journey through medieval times Christmas, and we hope that you have gained a deeper appreciation for this special holiday.


Q: What were some of the popular decorations used during Christmas in medieval times?

A: Some popular decorations used during Christmas in medieval times included evergreen branches, holly, and ivy.

Q: What types of food and drinks were served during the medieval Christmas feasts?

A: Medieval Christmas feasts often included dishes such as roasted meats, pies, and puddings, as well as ale and wine.

Q: What religious observances were associated with Christmas in the medieval era?

A: In the medieval era, religious observances such as Ember Days and Advent fasting were associated with Christmas.

Q: What were some popular medieval Christmas carols and songs?

A: Popular medieval Christmas carols and songs included both religious and secular compositions, sung by minstrels and troubadours.

Q: What were some unique customs and traditions practiced during Christmas in medieval times?

A: Medieval Christmas customs and traditions included the role of mummers, pageants, and the Lord of Misrule.

Q: What types of gifts were commonly exchanged during medieval Christmas?

A: In medieval times, gifts such as handmade crafts, food, and clothing were commonly exchanged during Christmas.

Q: How did the Church influence Christmas celebrations in the medieval era?

A: The Church played a significant role in medieval Christmas celebrations through religious rituals, services, and processions.

Q: What types of entertainment and games were enjoyed during Christmas in medieval times?

A: Entertainment during medieval Christmas included the performances of minstrels and troubadours, as well as various festive games and activities.

Q: How did royalty and nobility celebrate Christmas in the medieval court?

A: Christmas in the medieval court was celebrated with lavish feasts, ceremonies, and traditions observed by royalty and nobility.

Q: What were the key characteristics of celebrating Christmas in the medieval era?

A: Celebrating Christmas in the medieval era was characterized by unique traditions, religious observances, feasting, and entertainment.