Published: 30-07-2012, 12:16

Christmas in Medieval Europe: Christmas Feasts in Medieval Europe

Christmas in Medieval Europe

Christmas in Medieval Europe: Christmas Season

Christmas in Medieval Europe: Entertainments

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 late Middle Ages, the typical English Christmas dinner probably included roast meat, chicken, or wild fowl, white bread (a medieval luxury), and ale or cider. The rich, of course, fared somewhat better. When the Bishop of Hereford hosted a Christmas feast for his household and 41 guests in the year 1289, his kitchens sizzled with a wide variety of roasted meats. The bishop’s hard-working chefs butchered and cooked two oxen, four pigs, four deer, two calves, sixty fowls, eight partridges, and two geese. In addition, they brewed beer, baked bread, and prepared cheese for all. The assembled company washed down their meal with forty gallons of red wine and four gallons of white wine, as well as an "unscored” amount of beer.

A wide variety of what we might consider unusual fowl could appear on a medieval Christmas menu, such as swans and peacocks. The chefs of the well-to-do strove to present these beautiful birds in artful ways. For example, they might decorate the roasted carcass, often enclosed in pastry, with the bird’s plucked feathers and place a lighted wick in the bird’s beak. In addition to peacock and swan, medieval diners also relished heron, crane, bittern, plover, snipe, and woodcock. Chefs searching for a make-ahead dish that would resist spoilage often created large fruit, meat, and butter pies for the Christmas table. These pies later evolved into the dish we know as MINCEMEAT PIE.

The wealthy and noble often served wild boar for Christmas, commanding their pages to bring the roasted BOAR’S HEAD to the table with great ceremony. Indeed, boar’s flesh (known as "brawn”), as well as pork were favorite Christmas meats. The English often accompanied these roasted meats with Christmas ale and WASSAIL. Lastly, like their counterparts in the rest of Europe, medieval Britons celebrated throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas. The largest and most festive meal was often served on TWELFTH NIGHT, or on Epiphany.

The French also celebrated the Christmas season with lavish feasts and openhanded hospitality. Castle doors were thrown open and wayfarers welcomed to feast at the lord and lady’s table. When poor folk appeared at the door they were given food and, sometimes, clothing as well. Like their English counterparts, cooks in French castles served swan, peacock, and, occasionally, even stork to their guests. These guests might number into the hundreds. After they had sated their appetites, the guests could relax and enjoy entertainments provided by storytellers, jugglers, dancers, magicians, or traveling musicians. (See also CHRISTMAS IN FRANCE.)