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An Elizabethan Christmas

From The Elizabethan People by Henry Thew Stephenson. New York: H. Holt & Co.

Of all the year no period was looked forward to with an interest like that inspired by the approach of Christmas and the following days. The principal characteristic of the Yule-tide sports was general hospitality and the closely related unbinding of social ties. It was the one time of the year when there was practically no distinction of class, when lord, lady, and rustic met in the same hall, played the same games, and romped without stint as if they were social equals. The proper period for the Yule-tide sports was from Christmas Eve to Twelfth Day; but, especially among the lower classes, this period was extended in both directions.


It was customary during this period to decorate the halls, houses, etc., with bay, laurel, ivy, and holly leaves, decorations which were kept in place to the end of the period of celebration. An allusion in Stow's Survey of London to this habit contains also an allusion to the extension of the period of celebration by the common people. "Against the feast of Christmas," he says, "every man's house, as also their parish churches, were decked with holm, ivy, bays, and whatsoever the season of the year afforded to be green. The conduits and the standards in the streets were likewise garnished. Amongst which I read, that in the year 1444, by tempest of thunder and lightning, on the first of February at night, Paul's steeple was fired, but with great labour quenched, and towards the morning of Candlemas day, at the Leadenhall in Comhill, a standard of tree, being set up in the pavement fast in the ground, nailed full of holm and ivy, for disport of Christmas to the people, etc."

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