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The History of Christmas: Day 9 – Lord of the Misrule (1550 CE) December 20, 2012

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The History of Christmas
Day 9: Lord of the Misrule – 1550 CE

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The crowning of a Lord of the Misrule has come a long way since the celebration founded in ancient Ur. In the England of the middle ages, it has taken on the spirit of Mardi Gras as celebrated today. In Scotland they called it, “The Abbot of Unreason.”  In France, it became “Prince de Sots.”  The customs and revelry changed from country to country, but the substance remained the same:  Take over a religious or municipal building.  Decorate.  Crown the Lord of Misrule.  Eat.  Drink.  Sing. Carry on to the utmost.  Let the celebration spill out onto the streets.  Knock on doors, singing, laughing and encouraging the people inside to join in the celebration.  Anything goes! And a good time was had by all.

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January, 1550
London, England

Dearest Mary,

How I wish you could have spent Christmas with James and I this year. Such excitement. Did I tell you we planned to invade St. Paul’s to crown the Lord of Misrule? It was the perfect place to celebrate Christmas.

After morning mass in the choir, we went downstairs to the merchant’s stalls and were able to purchase everything we needed for misrule. We decorated the old hall with greens, candles and finery and laid out enough food for the full twelve courses on the wood alter at the front. The huge Yule candle was placed right in the center. Lloyd found a chair that looked like a throne and we bought barrels of ale and tons of food, all without having to leave the old church.

The people started showing up at midday. By the time the Lord of Misrule was crowned, there must have been close to a thousand people in the old church. Everyone was singing and playing music and games and laughing. I must admit I had much too much to drink myself. I even played Hoodman’s Bluff and Hot Cockles. You would have laughed at me.

After the Christmas Threshold, in which Frank played the lucky bird, we were all commanded to parade through the streets. The mummers went with us, which meant even more singing and music. Before we left the church, James and I swapped clothing. Oh the laughter! Mary I can’t begin to tell you when I had such fun. How I do wish you would have made it to London with your John. He would have looked so silly wearing one of your high waisted gowns. Can you imagine?

Carrying the wassail was ingenious. We trooped from pubs to elegant homes singing:

Come bring, with a noise,
My merrie, merrie boys,
The Christmas log to the firing;
While my good dame she
Bids ye all be free
And drink to your heart’s desiring.

They opened their doors to us and gave us their choicest food and drink, Mary, and reveled with us. Some even joined the troop and shared our wassail. It was the finest of merriment. James gave me the twelve kisses when we found some hanging mistletoe. All for fun. All for fun.

I’ll tell you more when we meet in the New Year.

Your sister,

Anne

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While the drinking, carousing, and mumming, might sound more like our celebration of New Years, it fits if you look at the week from Christmas on as one holiday, which in reality it is. Many people take off from work for the entire week, and schools are closed. One must remember that this is the way the religious holiday of Christmas came to be celebrated at this time and place.

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The History of Christmas: Day 1 – Celebration in Ur (2000 BCE) December 20, 2012

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The History of Christmas
Day 1: Celebration in Ur – 2000 BCE

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Two thousand years before the birth of Christ, late in the month we refer to as December; a twelve day celebration took place in the ancient city of Ur, located in modern Iraq.

Ur, held as the cradle of civilization and located by the original source of both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, had been birthed by the Ubaid peoples who farmed the alluvial plain of southern Mesopotamia.

As the city grew, the festival of Zagmuk began to take place around the time of the winter solstice. It celebrated the triumph of Marduk, the patron deity of Ur, over the symbolical forces of Chaos. The simulated battles raged for twelve days, with the king, En, playing Marduk and his son playing Nabu, his rescuer and the god of writing.

The battle, as acted out in the High Court, had En enacting the rite of the Sacred Marriage with Entu, a specially chosen High Priestess. Sexual intercourse between En and the virgin Entu played out the regeneration of the cosmos through their reenactment of the primordial coupling of An, the god of the night, with Ki, the goddess of the Earth.

On the twelfth night of the ceremony, a substitute playing the role of the En ran through the streets of Ur with a crowd of battlers. After his run, the mock king would be killed in order to do battle at Marduk’s side while another prisoner would be set free.

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In the lower portion of Ur, near the river Euphrates, lived Pauldin, a dealer in grain, and his wife, Onita. The couple prepared for the twelfth day of the holiday with their children, four year old Sharona and Beniel, who neared the age of seven.

Beniel chopped wood outside their dwelling. Sharona carried the splintered pieces to Pauldin, who made preparations for a large bonfire. “Father,” she asked. “Why do we build a fire in the street this day?”

Her father smiled and answered, “Do you not remember the images of the Monsters of Chaos I carved yesterday?”

“Those ugly things, yes, father. You said they are fighting against Marduk, who will save the world from death.”

“That’s right, and we will help Marduk defeat them by burning those images in this bonfire. This will purify us of the evil that our sins of the past year have brought upon us. It will renew our strength for the coming year. Then we can celebrate Marduk’s victory over evil later tonight and a new year will begin.”

“What is mother doing?”

“She is inside preparing costumes for us. We will dress up as fighters in Marduk’s army and parade down the streets of Ur by the light of these fires. Beniel and his friend Mardin will be taking part in an enactment of the great battle with the dark powers of the deep.”

“Will I be able to watch?”

Her father smiled. “If you don’t fall asleep like you did last year. When we get home there will be a feast and wondrous gifts for everyone.”

Little Sharona’s eyes went wide and thoughts of gaiety and gifts filled her young mind.

*

Bonfires, feasts, gifts, costumes, and even substitute kings would be symbolic of the season for thousands of future celebrations at this time of the year.