Moonday: An Elizabethan Christmas

Making Gingerbread & Marchpane

An Elizabethan Feast

Hope your holidays have been everything you hoped for.  An Elizabethan Christmas was actually celebrated over twelve days but Twelfth Night (since it is a tad pagan) must wait for next Moonday’s post.  The Elizabethans celebrated Christmas with gift giving and feasting, depending on their wealth. 

Queen Elizabeth’s courtiers were expected to be generous to her and they were—because all her gifts were noted and saved for posterity.  She herself could be very generous but was notorious for gifting her second hand possessions (which could be very expensive or not). Regardless of her gift, the receiver was expected to be super appreciative.

Marchpane was a popular gift and food.  It was made from almond paste which was iced or gilded and then decorated with sugar figures and crystallised fruit.  The theme of the confection, whether simple or extravagant, could be allegorical, historical or personal. 

Compare your Christmas feast with one the Thomas Tusser wrote about in 1573.  According to him, a well-managed household shouldn’t cost a penny.

Good husband and huswife, now chiefly be glad,
Things handsome to have, as they ought to be had.
They both do provide, against Christmas do come,
To welcome their neighbors, good cheer to have some.
Good bread and good drink, a good fire in the hall,
Brawn, pudding, and souse, and good mustard withal.
Beef, mutton, and pork, and good pies of the best,
Pig, veal, goose, and capon, and turkey well drest,
Cheese, apples and nuts, and good carols to hear,
As then in the country is counted good cheer.
What cost to good husband, is any of this?
Good household provision only it is:
Of other the like, I do leave out a many,
That costeth the husband never a penny.

Have a Happy New Year.  Next week, Twelfth Night.  Rita Bay

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4 Responses

  1. And just which alternate universe did Mr. Tusser inhabit? lol

    I’m sure he meant a good wife stored grains, preserved meat and fruits, cared for the animals and otherwise made ready for winter. It would be nice to be able to do so today — if not so labor intensive.

    And it sounds as if Queen Elizabeth may have been the original re-gifter! Wonderful information, Rita! You continue to fascinate me!

    • Mr. Tusser really recorded the ideal. His century probably saw the end of self-sufficiency of large English estates. Trade opened up abroad and in the New World. The wealthy had to have the newest and the best. Good Example? Sugar was available only to the rich. Blackened teeth was a symbol of wealth to the extent that some folks artifically blackened their teeth.
      As for Elizabeth, she was very cheap except when it came to her own comforts. She was the original one in every color. Her early life knew many periods of relative poverty. RitaVF

  2. Love it, Rita. Thanks for sharing all this. The food of the past is fascinating. Looking forward to 12th Night

    • Thanks, sfcatty. Had to separate out English Twelfth Night because I plan to write about pagan influences on Elizabethan Christmas traditions. RitaVF

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