Guest Post: How Christmas Was Spent During The Crusades by D. N Carter

Who Controls The Past Controls The Future

 An epic love story must overcome religious divide and a plot to eradicate two blood lines, as the Crusades and the search for the ancient mysteries of the Holy Grail gather momentum.

Raised by his father in La Rochelle, France, Paul Plantavalu is known for his artistic nature, inquisitive mind and Christian faith. He also has an unshakable love for his Muslim childhood friend, Alisha al Komaty. Courageous and outspoken, she returns Paul’s love. But their path is paved with obstacles; religion, war, political chaos and a mysterious enemy determined to destroy their family lines.

Sometime between 1110 AD and 1120 AD in the aftermath of the first crusade, a small band of nine knights — the founding knights Templar — recover ancient precious artefacts left by a former, advanced civilisation, beneath the City of Jerusalem. Ruthlessly guarded, the secrets revealed by this discovery are highly prized by powerful and dangerous forces far and wide; the repercussions of their capture are inextricably linked to Paul and Alisha. As Paul starts to experience dark and vivid dreams and the fragile balance of peace starts to crumble, it will fall to an enigmatic man known as Kratos and his female warrior protégée Abi Shadana, to safeguard Paul and Alisha.

Paul and Alisha’s love story weaves between the threads of our reality and other realms — from the Druids to the Sufi mystics, the Magi of the East, the secret political arm of the Knights Templar and the Isma’ilis, the Assassins. Knights and pilgrims alike will witness some of the darkest battles ever fought. The discovery of a unique sword’s lethal power and whispered connections to King Arthur and the Holy Grail lead Paul and Alisha to question if their lives ever be the same again.

The first of a four-part series, Outremer is an historical epic, which sweeps across England, Scotland and France, to Syria, Jerusalem and Egypt. Discover the truth — and crack the ancient code — behind the great mysteries of the High Middle Ages for yourself.

About the Author

After strange and vivid experiences whilst living in Cyprus as a child, author D N Carter has been fascinated by the history, myths and legends of the Middle Ages and mankind’s past. As he got older travels to Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, the Languedoc region of France and the deserts of Arabia fuelled his enthusiasm. While not decoding maps and mathematical codes D N Carter enjoys adventure sports from parachuting to microlight flying. Today he divides his time between East Anglia in the UK and the south of France with his family.

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Christmas during the Crusades

By

D N Carter

 

The word ‘Christmas’ was first recorded in AD 1038 when a book from Saxon England used an amalgamation of the Old English expression ‘Christes Maesse’, meaning ‘Festival of Christ’. But it was not celebrated in the same fashion we do today. In fact most of the world didn’t celebrate it at all and Easter was considered more significant along with the Annunciation, celebrated on 25 March, when Jesus was supposedly conceived. But those who did celebrate Christmas did so from the 25th December to Epiphany on the 6th January…twelve days. It was preceded by a month of fasting in some regions which was seen as a time of special preparation for God’s coming, his adventus, from the Latin word adventus meaning ‘coming’ into the world, of both the infant Jesus, and at the end of time at the apocalypse, hence we get Advent. Christmas eventually came to dominate the medieval calendar and Advent was originally known as the ‘forty days of St. Martin’ because it began on 11th November, the feast day of St Martin of Tours. Christmas or Xmas?  With Xmas, the X actually stands for the Greek letter chi, which was the early abbreviation for Christ or the Greek ‘Khristos’. The X also symbolises the cross on which Christ was crucified. William the Conqueror chose to be crowned on Christmas day in AD 1066.

 

The use of an evergreen tree features in rituals of many cultures, but medieval Christmas trees were not a common element and their popularity only began in the 19th century. It is known that the Church would decorate trees with apples on Christmas Eve, which they called ‘Adam and Eve Day,’ but the trees remained outdoors. The giving and receiving of gifts were more commonly given on New Year’s Day or elsewhere in the Christmas season, not on the 25th. The singing of Christmas carols began to increase during the late middle ages and many of the medieval carols we sing today had their rhythms regularised and their harmonies rewritten to suit later tastes. In the Crusader states an individual would usually sing solo whilst others danced around him, or her.

 

The Christmas nativity with the baby Jesus in a manger was not something seen in medieval Christmas festivities. That practice did not start until the 16th century. The Christmas crib originated in AD 1223 in Italy when Saint Francis of Assisi explained the Christmas Nativity story to local people using a crib set up in a cave at Greccio to symbolise the birth of Jesus. This simple symbolism was rapidly adopted by Crusaders in the Holy Land as it gave an immediate visual means to convey and celebrate the story.  Most Christians see Christmas as commemorating the birth of Jesus on the 25th December; but this tradition was adopted by the Christian faith from earlier traditions such as the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, in honour of Saturn the Harvest God, and the Scandinavian festival of Yule and other Pagan festivals centred on the Winter Solstice, all celebrated on or around the 25th December. The original tales of Jesus’ birth from the gospels were expanded, especially in the Holy Land. One example, being the story of the three Maji/Magi (Magi – the route word for Magician) was changed so they became kings and given names with their own backgrounds (one eighth century legend described one of the three as being black). By the early-twelfth century, the liturgy would include dramatic scenes, such as ‘angels’ singing.  This would lead to the development of plays, especially in towns, were Bible scenes were dramatised.

The official date of the birth of Christ is absent from the Bible and is still hotly contested. In the latter part of the 4th century, the Roman Empire made Christianity its official religion and it was Pope Julius I who settled and established the date on the 25th December. The 3rd century historian Sextus Julius Africanus stated that Jesus was conceived on the spring equinox of 25th March, as already mentioned above, the choice being a shrewd and effectual method to ‘Christianise’ the pagan winter festivals that fell on this date. The winter solstice is the day the sun reverses its direction of its cycle from south to north, connecting the birth of Jesus to the ‘rebirth’ of the sun. However the Epiphany on the 6th January was often more enthusiastically celebrated as it was the celebration of Jesus’ baptism and the visit from the three Magi/kings.

Unlike today, Christmas was seen as a time for quiet prayer and contemplation, not fun and frolics.  But the festive season in the High Middle Ages became a time of excess dominated by a great feast, gifts for rich and poor and general indulgence in eating, drinking, dancing and singing. Eating Turkey for Christmas was not practiced…as Turkeys come from the Americas and had not been discovered, nor chocolate, so in general, a boar’s head was on the medieval menu with beef, venison, partridges, geese, bread, cheese, ale and wine. Christmas was also a time for charity and sharing food, such as  loaves of bread, beef and bacon with mustard, chicken soup, cheese and as much beer as they could drink for the day. The rich would eat goose and, with the king’s permission, swan. If the poor could afford it, the Church charged a set price of seven pence for a ready cooked goose. An uncooked goose would cost six pence…about a day’s wages. Venison from deer would not be on the menu for the poor, but in keeping with the spirit of Christmas, some more charitable lords let them have what was left of the deer; those parts known as ‘umbles’. These were the heart, liver, tongue, feet, ears and brains mixed with whatever else they could get, then made into a pie. The poor would eat ‘umble pie’ and where the expression ‘to eat humble pie’ originates.

Large mince pies were baked but filled with all sorts of shredded meat along with spices and fruit, the recipe only changing in Victorian times when the meat was left out. Originally baked in rectangular cases to represent the infant Jesus’ crib and the addition of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg was meant to symbolise the gifts bestowed by the three wise men. Similarly we see today, these pies were not very large and it was widely believed to be lucky to eat one mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas. Only in the Victorian era was the recipe amended to include only spices and fruit. Christmas puddings in Medieval Europe, especially England, were a spicy porridge known as ‘frumenty’. Made of thick porridge, sometimes boiled wheat, with currants and dried fruit stirred in. Yolks of eggs were also added and, if available, spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. The mixture was left to cool and set before being served. In the Holy Land it was usually the mince pies that were favoured as the ingredients were more readily available.

Boxing Day was traditionally when the rich gave gifts for the poor. In medieval times, the gift was generally money given in a hollow clay pot with a slit in the top which had to be smashed to retrieve the money. These small clay pots were nicknamed ‘piggies’ and became the piggy banks we use today. Christmas Day was traditionally a ‘quarter day’, one of the four days in the financial year on which payments such as ground rents were due, meaning many poor tenants had to pay their rent on Christmas Day! December 28th is ‘Holy Innocents Day’ or ‘Childermass Day’, the day when King Herod ordered all children under two years of age be killed. In some European towns it was the custom for a boy to be given charge of a town for one day after being made a bishop for just December 28th. Children, especially in England, were reminded of Herod’s cruelty by being beaten. December 28th was seen by many then as a day of bad luck. No-one would get married on that day; no-one would start a building on that day and Edward IV refused to be crowned on that day.*

 

*Additional Sources: C N Trueman ‘Medieval Christmas’.  Dr Matthew Champion, research fellow in medieval and early modern history at St Catharine’s College Cambridge. Ben Johnson.

 

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by D N Carter
Recommended for you:
Unit Price
£15.27
Available
Estimated Standard Delivery: 2 to 7 business days.

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