Medieval Christmas Celebrations
Dickon Independent, Issue 42 (2001)
Introduction: Christmas was one of the great religious feasts of the medieval year and would be celebrated by everyone at their local church, and also at home with feasting, dancing, music and games, in much the same way as we do today.
Popular medieval activities at Christmas included acting, playing the lute and harp, singing, playing at the tables (backgammon), chess and cards. Backgammon and chess had been popular for a long time, like dice, but playing cards were relatively new.
Mumming, or a masked play, was an essential ingredient of medieval Christmases, usually involving a St George and an alien knight who was Turkish. The Turks captured Constantinople when Richard was one year old.Carols probably originated with the ‘The Crib’ written by Italian friar Jacopone da Todi in the thirteenth century but were slow to gain popularity and the first recorded carol-like verses appeared in later medieval plays.
Richard and Anne’s first Christmas as king and queen in 1483 was happy, even though they were in London and their only son Edward had to remain at Middleham, too sickly to travel. As the king was short of ready money at Christmas he sold items from the royal household to London merchants, and also used items from the royal treasure as pledges for loans. This brought in plenty of money and a delighted Richard presented the city with a flat cup with a cover of gold, encrusted with rubies, diamonds and pearls.