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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


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.


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,



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.


The History of Christmas: Day 8 – Julafred in Norway (1350 CE) December 20, 2012

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The History of Christmas
Day 8: Julafred In Norway – 1350 CE

day 9

Julafred is simply the celebration of Yule. In ancient times, Yule, meaning “feast,” celebrated the winter solstice. That has changed. The holiday is now referred to as “The Peace of Christmas.” One must remember that the harvests of these large farms had to be consumed quickly, before spoilage set in.  The Yule holiday feast provided the perfect venue for reducing the stock of meats and vegetables on hand.

Not much has changed about the way Yule is celebrated though. Holly and evergreens, symbols of the sun’s rebirth are still gathered and displayed as decoration. Julbukk, the Yule Goat, has morphed into Julbukk, the Yule elf. The goat remains in the picture, however, as it pulls the elf’s sleigh.


Outside what is now Oslo, Norway, Marin, her daughter, Audny, along with other women from the farm are found in the kitchen, turning a large boar over the hearth. A huge feast is being readied for the entire village. The sounds of male laughter, shouts, threats, and boasts come from another room. Outside, darkness has set in since the early afternoon.

In the large commons the men sat sharing horns of meade. The great hall looked majestic, decorated in all manner of holly and greenery. A huge fireplace plays host to a massive oak log that burned at the rear of the hearth, yet stuck out onto the floor in front, a quarter way into the hall. From time to time one or two of the younger males pushed this log farther into the hearth so it could continue burning. Outside work in the farm village has been reduced to a minimum.

The men enjoyed a reenactment of the hunt which felled the boar turning on its spit in the kitchen. A young man in a mask made of a felted material played the part of the hunted. The killer of the boar embellished his role, to the pleasure of the audience. Children, also in masks, played the part of sheep and cattle in the fields.

In the kitchen, preparations continue. Meats of all sorts, from fish to fowl, must be eaten or they will spoil. Every year, the men and women of the community look forward to this feast. It is a time of Julafred, the peace of Christmas.

Audny, however, has her mind on something else entirely. “Mother, did Julbukk, the Yule Elf, come last night?”

The women had been working since the evening before, sleeping in shifts with their children in the back of the kitchen. Her mother smiled. “So it is rumored, my child.”

“I wish I had stayed awake. I wanted to pet his goats. Will we be home to see?”

“After the feast. I’m sure the old hustomte elf has left you something. He’s a jolly one.”

“Did you leave porridge out for him?”

“Of course my dear, along with a large wedge of cheese and a cup of meade.”

“I hope the trolls didn’t bother him.”


Many traditions of our own celebration of Christmas come from Yule.  The use of holly and evergreens as decoration; the Yule log; the Christmas ham; and even the decorating of Christmas trees, have all been handed down to us from the Scandinavians.  You can also see the beginnings of Santa, referring to him as an elf even though his sleigh is pulled by a goat rather than reindeer.  Note also the leaving of food for the elf.  All this has been passed on to us.