Researcher talks medieval Christmas on BBC Radio 3

British Library MS Addition 24098

The Winter Season. ‘The Golf Book’, British Library

Christmas traditions in the Middle Ages are both ‘strange’ and ‘familiar’ to people celebrating the season in the 21st century, Dr Sarah Peverley told BBC Radio 3 in a special seasonal programme.

In the lead up to Christmas, people would start fasting, slaughtering animals that wouldn’t survive the winter and participating in ceremonies, she said.


The royals would host lavish dinners, inviting innumerable guests to feast on a variety of food. The nobles, however, would host smaller but equally impressive dinners. Christmas was celebrated with an uplifting spirit – with music, dance, games and gifts exchange.

It was a particularly happy day for the poorer parts of society, as they were free from work and allowed to enjoy the day with their families and friends.

Dr Peverley, from the University of Liverpool’s School of the Arts, said: “It’s through the poorest people that we see the true essence of Christmas in the Middle Ages: a spirit that speaks to our own age of austerity. For them, Christmas was about simple inexpensive pleasures, spiritual contemplation, and spending time with family and friends free from the obligations of work and rank.”

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