Lucy Worsley's 12 Days of Tudor Christmas


Christmas Eve Traditions

Christmas Eve marked the end of Advent and fasting in many Tudor households, but also signaled the start of an important holiday tradition: decorating. Greenery like holly, ivy, bay and even rosemary were used to decorate Tudor homes.

AIRED: December 25, 2019 | 0:03:26

(slow bright music)

- When Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509,

over 90% of his subjects lived

outside towns and cities.

So I'm starting by getting a taste

of what December the 24th would have been like

in the countryside.

Even on Christmas Eve,

Tudor people were probably still hard

at work doing something unpleasant

and cold and miserable.

For Tudor people,

the first 24 days of December definitely weren't

about partying.

Whereas in the 21st Century,

Christmas seems to start in November doesn't it?

Especially the shopping.

At a time when practically everyone

in the British Isles was still a practicing Catholic,

the whole of Advent was

a period of strict abstinence enforced

by the church.

Ah if this really were a Tudor Christmas Eve,

I'd have been fasting now for four weeks.

No meat, no dairy,

that's the rules during Advent,

pretty grim.

But tomorrow everything's going to change,

tomorrow a holiday begins that's been enshrined

by law for centuries.

According to the church calendar it begins

with the birth of Jesus

and ends with the coming of the three wise men.

And those are the 12 days of Christmas.

(slow bright music)

To prepare for them,

one festivity was allowed

on Christmas Eve, decorating.

According to a Tudor writer,

every man's house has

also their Parish Church's were decked with green.

(slow bright music)

I want to know what that would have looked like

so I'm meeting a Historian of rural life.

How would you recommend that I would decorate

a Tudor farmhouse for Christmas.

- Ah definitely holy and ivy,

we've got good contemporary references for that.

The other thing

that gets mentioned very commonly is bay

and maybe an even stranger one is rosemary.

- It has nothing

to do with cooking,

this is just a decoration? - This is just a decoration.

(slow bright music)

- Let's deck our halls. - Yes.

- Now John,

we're not going to do

any Christmas tree stuff are we?

- No not at this time.

- Too early for Christmas trees?

- Yes. - But having said that this is

a very ancient seeming thing to do

to bring the leaves into the house

at mid-winter. - Yeah, and at

the darkest time of year,

there's a sort of promise of the trees

and the plants coming out again in spring.

- If it were the 21st century,

I'd be doing exactly

the same thing. - Yes.

- On Christmas Eve

but I'd be doing it with tinsel.

And there's something in common isn't there,

the long winding decorative thing

that you put around the house.

- Yes. - What should we decorate

next then? - I think we'll decorate

the spinning wheel.

Weave it around the spokes.

- So why are we making

the spinning wheel unusable?

- Well there should be no work done over

the 12 days of Christmas.

The spinning wheel is the symbol of

the farmer's wife's work.

So we render it inoperable. - So do you think

that women really needed

this sort of thing to stop them from working?

- I think they would be quite busy over

the Christmas period anyway.

- Now that we've done that

that's not going anywhere.