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Ghosts of Christmases Past
By C.V. Lee
December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve began with First Vespers, the evening prayer service. Vespers was a daily practice, but on Christmas Eve the priest would tell of the greatness of Jesus Christ the Son of God and they finished with the congregation chanting the hymn, Jesu Redemptor Omnium. Many still attend a Christmas service on Christmas Eve or Christmas day.

In preparation for the season, homes were festooned with greenery. Holly and mistletoe were among the favorites along with ivy and any thing else green they could find. Tables were decorated with linens and candles. An enormous log, the Yule log, was brought into the home and lit on Christmas Eve. The log needed to be large enough to last through Twelfth Night. This tradition is now remembered in a much sweeter way – the custard filled cake rolled into a log shape and decorated.

Christmas Eve has finally arrived! For many of us, this is our favorite time of year. The weeks before Christmas are filled with the bustle of holiday shopping, attending parties and spreading the joy of the season. And today, the last box on the Advent Calendar is opened.

In centuries long past, Christians anxiously awaited Christmas, the longest holiday of the year commencing on Christmas Eve and ending on January 5th with Twelfth Night and continuing on to  January 6th with the Feast of the Epiphany. They spent the days leading up to Christmas quite differently. In the weeks preceding Christmas, the season of Advent was observed. Advent was a time for reflection, prayer and penance in preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth and preparation for the second coming.  During this time, Christians were admonished to refrain from eating meat, dairy, and fat and from drinking alcohol. They were expected to fast three days a week. Additionally, they abstained from gambling, sex and marrying. I think we can all appreciate why they were thankful when Christmas Eve arrived!

Christmas Day celebrations included  special foods, entertainment and everyone’s favorite, a lot of alcohol. Meats and desserts were the highlight of the meal. The feast featured rarely eaten meats such as beef, mutton, veal, venison, and goose, to name a few. The tables of the nobility would be typically be graced by either a boar’s head with an apple stuffed in its mouth and garnished with greenery, or a peacock or a swan skinned, roasted and redressed to look alive. Sugar was a scarce commodity, so desserts were less sweet – custards, pastries, nuts and fruit. Between courses, guests would be entertained by singing Christmas carols or watching plays that depicted the nativity or other Bible stories. But everyone’s favorite pastime was drinking – particularly spiced ale and wassail. And of course, not to be forgotten, there was gift giving. 

            Today’s Christmas celebrations still hold many vestiges of the past. Many new traditions have been added and as families we have started some of our own – special movies we watch (my new favorite is It Happened on Fifth Avenue), baking special family recipes, and breaking out those ugly Christmas sweaters. However you celebrate the season, we at Paper Lantern Writers wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas!

C.V. Lee
Written by C.V. Lee

C.V. Lee writes historical biographical fiction featuring forgotten heroes and heroines of the past. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Alli, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can find her on Facebook @cvlee.histficwriter and on Instagram @cvleewriter.

View CV’s PLW Profile

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