Published: 30-07-2012, 12:14

Christmas in Medieval Europe: Christmas Season

Christmas in Medieval Europe

Christmas in Medieval Europe: Entertainments

Christmas in Medieval Europe: Christmas Feasts in Medieval Europe

Christmas in Medieval Europe: Famous English Christmas Feasts

Christmas in Medieval Europe: Adapting Pagan Customs

Christmas in Medieval Europe: Creating Christian Customs

Christmas in Medieval Europe: Surviving Medieval Customs

In the fourth century Church authorities chose DECEMBER 25 as the date on which Christians would celebrate the Nativity. They placed Christmas near two important Roman feasts, SATURNALIA (December 17 to 23) and KALENDS (January 1 to 5). Moreover, they scheduled it on the same day as the BIRTH OF THE INVINCIBLE SUN, a festival dedicated to the sun god. This meant that the major Christian feasts of Christmas and Epiphany (January 6) opened and closed a thirteen-day period during which many recent converts were already accustomed to celebrate.

Eventually, the Church decided to accept this inclination to celebrate a midwinter festival rather than fight it. In 567 the Council of Tours declared the days that fall between Christmas and Epiphany to be a festal tide. This decision expanded Christmas into a Church season stretching from December 25 to January 5. This Church season became known as "Christmastide,” but ordinary folk called it the TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS.

As Christianity became more firmly rooted in Europe, political leaders declared the Twelve Days to be legal holidays. Near the end of the ninth century King Alfred the Great of ENGLAND (849-899) mandated that his subjects observe the Twelve Days of Christmas, outlawing all legal proceedings, work, and fighting during that time. The Norwegian King Haakon the Good (d. c. 961) established the Christian observance of the festival in NORWAY in the middle of the tenth century.