Christmas One Thousand Years Ago

Christmas One Thousand Years Ago

The Christmas Day of 1000 years ago in Europe was very much a religious celebration with the primary purpose the observation of the birth of Christ – as directed by the Catholic Church of the day.

However Christmas Day was also chosen for special events, with the coronation of William the Conqueror in England on Christmas Day 1066 a famous example.

Although Christmas in medieval Europe was a much different style of celebration to what we see today, several modern Christmas Day traditions have their roots in medieval times.

The Christmas crib was thought to have originated with Saint Francis of Assisi around 1220 in Italy, when he used a crib for a demonstration in telling of the story of the birth of Jesus.

Strangely the humble mince pie also has origins that track back to medieval times, with the original rectangular shape symbolising the crib of Jesus. The addition of the three spices of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves were also symbolic – representing the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh presented by the wise men.

Carol singing also has ancient origins, with the early practice involving dancing and singing in a circle, an activity that was banned within the Church because of the distraction it produced. Carol singers therefore took their singing outside, often moving from door to door.

The day after Christmas Day, Boxing Day, was a day when the rich traditionally gave to the poor, often in the form of cash placed in clay pots that had to be broken to retrieve the money. These pots were known as “piggies” – explaining the origin of the “piggy bank”.

Today’s Christmas Day focuses on gift giving and family meals in many western countries, but some of the traditions still observed have been passed to us down the centuries, all the way from medieval times.


Image: A depiction of the nativity from an English liturgical book c 1310, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.