147 – The Twelve Days of Christmas

This year for our Christmas special, I thought I would give you an idea of what Christmas was like for some of the people in Middle Ages Britain. Now, Christmas in the middle ages was quite different from our modern experience in many ways. And like with everything else, it would have varied from location to location. However, in general the celebration would have been guided by a book called the Use of Sarum. The Use was compiled at Salisbury Cathedral, and it quickly became the predominant ceremonial book in England and Scotland and remained a bestseller until about the 16th century and the rise of protestantism in England. So, while there are always variations from town to town, and by now you probably instinctively know that there isn’t a monolithic English or Scottish culture, but rather just a patchwork of smaller cultures… the Use of Sarum does provide at least some degree of uniformity on how Christmas was celebrated during the Middle Ages in England and Scotland.

So here’s what some of them did.

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  1. I really enjoyed this episode as my husband and I were just discussing what the representation of all the “items” in the Twelve Days of Christmas are. Is there a source that you used which we can look into this further? All I can find online are articles outlining the theory that it represented the Catholic story of Christ and the Snopes article stating that all of those are wrong. I’m hoping for a more historical source. Thanks!

  2. February 2nd is the Church Feast of the Presentation of the Child Christ in the Temple-usually called Candlemas. It is 40 Days after Christmas-Advent-the period of Fasting before Christmas-was originally for 40 Days-although we only normally remember the four Sundays now. So there was a balance-40 days of Fasting, 40 Days of celebrating, although of course, it would have been uneconomic to have a 40 Day Holiday post Christmas, it was still a time of religious celebration

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