Have Yourself a Medieval Christmas – Part 1: Feasting

So it’s doom and gloom in this lead-up to Christmas 2021. Higher interest rates and petrol prices, food shortages and the covid monster threatening us at every turn. You could be forgiven for thinking the Zombies are just around the corner.

Money is tight and the planet is warning us that our children may well find themselves homeless before they reach old age… but despair not… we at Pembrokeshire.Online have been looking at alternative ways to celebrate that won’t break the bank. How’s about a medieval Christmas?

Bear with me now. I do need to stress that it is not all hot mead and frolicking in the snow. First, the likelihood is that if you are over 35 you might not have been alive at all (life was tough in the Middle Ages) and if you weren’t rich enough to own a draughty old half-timbered house or an equally freezing castle, you would almost certainly be sharing your one-room hovel with any livestock you had managed to acquire. No need for electricity if you have a warm cow to snuggle up to.

People who love this time of year might be delighted to learn that Christmas was a whole season to party on down, starting on 25 December and continuing until Epiphany on the 6 January. OK, so the month preceding the 25th was one of fasting and preparing oneself for the holiness of the big day, a special time for practising your most saintly expression and refusing to give in to temptation. Think of the money you could  save from not eating all those tempting modern Christmas treats, even if they are available in the shops. Think if the benefit to your waistline!

Traditionally, Christmas was also a time for charitable giving and sharing food, so if you are going full medieval you could trot around your richer neighbours and explain that they need to cough up some goodies for your table.

In some places, the local monastery or “big house” would give out beef, bacon and chicken to us peasants. It is not too late to remind your local church of the practice, perhaps still enshrined there in some ancient bylaw. Its tough times after all.

I should mention here that there was no chocolate and no turkey (it’s not 16th-century Spain yet). Oh and no spuds… not for a very long time, but who would say no to a boar’s head, a slice or two of venison… as long as you hadn’t poached the deer (which belonged to king in all his might and majesty – and which could mean your not living to see in the new year)… and all the local vegetables (so mainly turnips, then).

But be happy. There was lots of ale, (to be fair, the water wasn’t safe  to drink), any birds you could trap (see page 42 for home-made medieval bird traps – no Amazon or Ebay… it’s all do it yourself, mainly from twigs and rags and mud which you will have lots of).

Cheese and bread are in, but think of something evil-smelling that might have been curdled through a sock and spread on a seedy brick – rather than the Brie and handcrafted sourdough those mamby-pamby modern folks are indulging themselves with.

It’s also important to remember that salt is in short supply and anything you do find to eat  will need to be seasoned with spices such as pepper, ginger, cloves and saffron. If you can get them.

So good, so far. Food isn’t likely to be the highlight of our medieval Christmas and keeping warm is also a bit of an issue without the aforementioned cow or sheep, but worry not, there is still the joys of medieval entertainment.

Now that is something.

Look out for Have Yourself a Medieval Christmas – Part 2: Entertainment tomorrow.

Kitty Parsons

Kitty knows that she will always be an incomer, but this is to be her sixth summers. The wet and grey days of winters have not diminished her love of Pembrokeshire, but she is always grateful for the golden light of spring and summer. Her love of the sea sustains her even through the darkest of days and she can often be found at high tide bobbing about in Fishguard harbour at high tide, often with seals in attendance. When not freezing in water she is usually at her computer. She says" Pembrokeshire.online has been an opportunity to celebrate this beautiful county and its people. Keep the stories coming. We love to hear from you."

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  1. December 14, 2021

    […] our previous article we mentioned that unless you were rich or had a generous master, feasting wasn’t going to be the […]