How the Tudors Shaped Christmas in the UK
Who shaped the Christmas tradition in the UK?
Have you ever considered where the most iconic Christmas traditions in the UK actually come from? If not, it may surprise you to learn that some of our nearest and dearest festive favourites were actually introduced by the Tudors.
So when Christmas 2019 finally rolls around, spare a thought for our Tudor ancestors, without whom we wouldn’t be enjoying the following:
12 Days of Christmas
The tradition of celebrating for 12 days of Christmas - from December 25 to January 6 - dates back to Tudor Times. In the period running up to Christmas Day - aka Advent - it was also the norm to observe a period of fasting. This latter tradition having been phased out over the years, so there’s no longer any need to go hungry!
Back in Tudor times, Wassailing involved travelling around the neighbourhood, singing songs on neighbours’ doorsteps and passing around a bowl filled with spiced ale, wine or cider. Also known at the time as a Wassail Bowl. The term “wassail” is thought to originate from the old Anglo-Saxon toast waes hael, meaning “be well” or “be in good health.”
Believe it or not, some of the most iconic Christmas carols sung today were just as popular in Tudor times. Examples of which include: “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Good King Wenceslas” and “The First Noel” - all with 17th century origins. Christmas carolling as we know it today came about as a sort of ‘by-product’ of wassailing, when the Tudors went out and about to sing good tidings to their neighbours.
The “Kissing Bough”
The classic Christmas tree actually owes its origins to 16th century Germany, after which it didn’t become a British Christmas tradition for another 300 years. Earlier still, the Tudors introduced the tradition of decorating woven wooden hoops with bay leaves and holly, suspending them from ceilings and creating a “Kissing Bough”. All finished with the obligatory sprig of mistletoe, of course.
Four weeks of fasting in the run-up to Christmas would typically have Tudors ravenous by the time the big day rolled around. At which point, all the goodies they couldn’t eat beforehand - meat, eggs, cheese etc. - would be whipped-up into decadent delights to gorge on. One example of which being mince pies, which were traditionally stuffed with mutton, though could also be made using dried fruit and spices as a sweet version. Today, we very rarely bother with the savoury version of the mince pie, but the sweet version really is a Christmas classic.
The Yule Log
Last but not least, most of us know the 21st century yule log as a sweet and sticky chocolate treat - one we’d happily enjoy throughout the year. Back in the Tudor period, families would often venture into the woods on Christmas eve, take home an enormous log and decorate it with ribbons. After which, it would be ignited and kept burning throughout the 12 days of Christmas - the charred remnants of which served as a lucky charm for the year ahead.