We all know how Christmas is celebrated today, with a tree, lights and Santa leaving presents on Christmas Eve. But what was Christmas like in Tudor times?
First, for the four weeks leading up to Christmas (Advent), people would fast until Christmas Day. Christmas Eve was particularly strict and Tudor people were not allowed to eat eggs, cheese or meat. On Christmas Day, the festive celebrations began early with a mass before dawn and then two further masses later in the day. Church congregations held lighted tapers as the genealogy of Christ was sung and then they went home to enjoy a well-deserved Christmas Day feast.
The main days for celebration were Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Epiphany (Twelfth Night), although people celebrated for the rest of the Twelve Days of Christmas. The first day of the new year was different in Tudor times compared to now, it was the 25th March, the Feast of Annunciation, which celebrated the Angel Gabriel telling Mary that she was pregnant with God’s child. However, the Tudors also celebrated New Year’s Day on 1st January, as Roman times had January 1st as the start of the calendar year.
During the Twelve Days of Christmas, work for those who worked on the land would stop and spinners would also be banned from spinning. Work would not start again until Plough Monday, the first Monday after Twelfth Night.
Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard dancing in The Tudors series