Ding Dong Merrily On a Hovel
Ever wondered how different a medieval Christmas was to our modern counterpart? Luckily, you’re in the right place to find out!
The biggest difference between Modern Christmas and Medieval Christmas, actually occurred before the big day itself. In the Medieval era, Advent was a time of fasting. A fasting diet was based on beliefs in the Bible. The Bible was a big thing in medieval times and, although most of the general population would not have actually read the Bible (their sermons would also be in Latin, a language most would not understand) they were a God-fearing people.
So Bring Us Some Hovel Pudding
Medieval Christmas fasting meant eating no land animal products. Sea animals (fish, shellfish) were fine during fasting. Along with fish and sea creatures, animals such as geese and beavers’ tails were also on the menu. The belief that these animals spent most of their time in water gave way to the loose belief that they were ok during fasting!
As well as meat, there would have been ample vegetables – most much the same as we have now. Sadly this doesn’t stretch to a good old roast potato, as Columbus didn’t discover America until 1492 and they took a while to get back to us!
Veg that was on the menu? Parsnips, carrots (purple, not orange), cabbage, and turnips. No sprouts! They didn’t come into general eating until the 16th century. Personally, we think that’s great, any excuse for no sprouts… (Fee declines to agree, she’s weird).
All Hovel Wants for Medieval Christmas is a… Goose!
Goose was commonly eaten for Christmas dinner. Nobles would have had large, ostentatious feasts including goose, woodcock and venison. A noble who was particularly in favour with the King may have had the chance to dine on swan – but this was most definitely reserved for the Royal family and those given express permission. Then, as now, it was illegal to kill a swan. All swans belong to the monarch.
A poor family could buy pre-cooked geese from the Church for 7 pence (the equivalent of roughly a month’s wages). An uncooked goose could be brought for a slightly reduced price of 6 pence!
You may notice from the list above that turkey was not on the menu. Turkey did not exist in Medieval England. Turkey came from America. For the same (horrific) reason, chocolate was also off the menu. That’s not to say that there wasn’t anything sweet on offer. Candied fruit and marchpane (a type of marzipan) were commonly seen on noble tables.
Here We Come A-Hovelling
There are a few Yuletide traditions we celebrate which stretch further back than the medieval period. One of the funniest stories we’ve read is he curious tale of Barnacle Goose!
Geese were OK to eat during fating, but only if you could be convinced that the goose on the table was in fact a mythical goose known as the Barnacle Goose. Born from barnacles, the Barnacle goose was most definitely a sea rather than a land animal according to our Medieval ancestors. This meant it was fair game for Christmas dinner. Sounds legit!
After lunch, what plans do you have? Maybe a round of charades, a bit of trivial pursuit or the fateful game of Monopoly?
Although not a game as such, the Medieval family would have been looking to elect The Bean King!
The Bean King was an already ancient Christmas tradition, even by the Medieval period. The Bean King requires either a loaf of bread, or a crown shaped cake with a single bean baked into it. The finder of the bean becomes The Bean King and therefore the humorous ruler of the festivities.
This tradition evolved during the Victorian period (as many traditions did) to become the sixpence in the Christmas pudding.
We Wish You A Hovel Christmas and a Medieval New Year!
Whether your lunch is the more modern turkey or the older goose, we hope you have a wonderful Christmas! We hope that it cooks well and the nap after lunch is restful!