Tag Archives: Christmas

Holiday Greetings: Happy New Beginnings

Christmas candles

Have a Happy, Merry, Peaceful, Fulfilling –whatever it is you are celebrating.


from A Traveler’s Library and

Ancestors in Aprons.



  And may you catch Santa coming down the chimney before you fall asleep.

Christmas Picture
Waiting for Santa


Still shopping? See Ten Perfect Gifts for Travelers Who Read.

Still baking? See a month of Christmas cookie recipes at Ancestors in Aprons.

We’ll be back in 2014 with a whole lot of BRAND NEW STUFF and a GIVEAWAY. See you then.

Do You Celebrate a Medieval Christmas?

Cultural Travel

By Jessica Voigts

Medieval Christmas Nativity
Date 1262 (Medieval)
Medium ink, paint and gold on parchment from Walters Art Museum, Wiki Commons




Christmas traditions differ around the world but many traditional ways to celebrate Christmas find their roots in medieval times. During that era, the church promoted a serious celebration for the birth of Christ.  Medieval Christmas is still with us.

 The Twelve Days of Christmas

Although the church was serious, more popularly the main holidays in medieval times were a time for

feasting, dancing, singing, sporting, gambling, and general excess and indulgence. Part of the cause for celebration undoubtedly arose from the security that came with winter. True, the weather could be harsh and cruel, and food and stores could be in short supply, but political enemies were unlikely to start a war or undertake a siege in such conditions. One was alive, safe from enemy threat, surrounded by friends and good company, and had enjoyed plentiful harvests and good hunting with which to cover the tables and fill the belly. By all means, celebrate.” (Medieval Celebrations, by Daniel Diehl and Mark Donnelly, p. 22).

From these early celebrations of Medieval Christmas come many ways we still celebrate Christmas today.

Christmas Carols

Christmas carolers in Poland. Creative Commons, Wikimedia.

The origin of the word Wassail comes from the Old English  term, waes hael (be well, or good health). A large bowl of strong, hot punch (usually based on ale, with spices and honey added) was lifted by the host, who would say ‘waes hael.’  Everyone would respond with “drinc hael ” (drink and be well). Friends would finish that bowl of deliciousness, singing and laughing, and then head off to the next friend’s house. This led to the song,  Here We Come A-Wassailing, as people would move from house to house singing, and today’s caroling is a tradition remaining from medieval Christmas.


Medieval feast

Medieval feast of William the Conqueror. From Bayeux Tapestry. In the public domain. Scanned from Maggie Black’s “Den medeltida kokboken”, Swedish translation of The Medieval Cookbook

A Christmas feast was quite welcome at medieval Christmas, as the cold set in and food became scarce. People would slaughter animals that they didn’t intend to keep through the winter, thus ensuring a great feast. Peasants would receive a loaf of bread and some meat from their lord. The most popular feasting food at the time was goose, if you could afford it. In 1213, King John of England (who could obviously afford it) held a Christmas feast – and ordered a great amount of food to serve his guests. Records show that he ordered: 10,000 salt eels, 24 hogshead of wine, 200 head of pig, 1,000 chickens, 50 pounds of pepper, 2 pounds of saffron, 100 pounds of almonds, and 500 pounds of wax (for candles because you have to see to eat!).

The Nativity Scene

Medieval Christmas of St. Francis
St. Francis in the garden of San Damiano, Assisi, Italy

In 1223, St Francis of Assissi (Italy) created a crèche (crib) and Nativity scene with animals in a cave in Italy. He held a Christmas Eve Mass and nativity pageant there. Later medieval traditions included Mary and Joseph (and later, shepherds), in addition to the farm animals who kept the baby warm. Today’s town square large Nativity scenes, as well as the smaller plastic lit outdoor ones, and indoor figurine scenes, all got their inspiration from St Francis!

The Tree

Medieval Christmas candle.
Candle on German Christmas tree. Creative Commons, Wikimedia

In pagan times, people would bring in evergreens to bring ‘life’ to their solstice celebrations. In the middle ages, on Christmas Eve, Germans would carry an evergreen tree through the town and then erect it in the town square, to be decorated with paper flowers. After a great celebration (and feast), the tree was burned. What a great way to keep warm!

Martin Luther, the famous German religious reformer, put candles on the tree to represent the stars in the heavens, and a candle atop the tree to represent the star that guided the Wise Men to Bethlehem.

Wherever you travel–England, Poland, Germany, Italy, France–and the United States still use many customs of a Medieval Christmas.

Which Medieval customs do you still follow in your home?

Christmas Books

Do you have one book you read over and over at Christmas? Do you like Christmas-themed books? Do you need some new suggestions for Christmas books?

While we’re talking about what you like to read at Christmas time, let me remind you of the high percentage of people who cannot enjoy the simple pleasure–and sometimes the critical need–of reading.  That’s why I’m enthusiastic about the Passport With Purpose effort this year to provide schools and adult literacy programs in Mali.  If you have not yet learned about buildOn, the organization that helps local people build their own schools, please take a look at this video.

Then click to Passports with Purpose and select a prize you’d like to win for your $10 contribution. See that thermometer on the right?  Keep track of how we’re doing at reading the goal. And be proud of being part of that effort.


Are you still re-reading The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens every year? You can choose from audio books, pop-up books, children’s editions, annotated books, e-books–not to mention DVDs of various productions. Charles Dickens, you know, made money from his books by serializing them in newspapers, writing the next installment as the readers were still paging through the last one. What would he have thought of all those new ways to read,listen to or watch his story? I think he would have loved it!

The edition pictured here looks like a particularly decorative book, but since it really is a rather short book, you might want to get a collection of Christmas books that includes the Dickens classic.

Christmas books


Publishers of books and magazines all but beg writers to produce holiday-related material, because Christmas Sells!  Everyone, I’m sure, is looking for the next “Christmas Carol” or “Twas the Night Before Christmas, or A Visit with St. Nicholas“. Christmas books of that quality are few and far between, although Dr. Seuss did create an immortal new Christmas character with The Grinch.


In time for the holidays, Penguin  published Edie Kiglatuk’s Christmas (A Penguin holiday E-Special). After reading The Boy in the Snow, which I reviewed here, I was happy to read Edie Kiglatuk’s Christmas.  This very short novel starts out as a rather bloody mystery that had me wondering what in the world is “Christmasy” about this?  But, as the publicity release says, “This is  a stunning short mystery with a magical and heart-rending twist.” If you have not read one of the Edie Kiglatuk’s mysteries yet, the e-book also tempts you with excerpts from the first two novels in the series, The Boy in the Snow and White Heat.


Are you a mystery fan?  Every mystery writer, it seems, cranks out a book featuring Christmas.  But if you want to save time, just get the new compilation: The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. This is a collection of 60 short stories by well known  (Agatha Christie, O. Henry, and Mary Higgins Clark, Ed McBain) and not-so well known writers. I haven’t read it but think I’d like to. A reviewer named Carole on Amazon says, ” If you like a little holiday reading that’s not so glycemic this is your sugarplum antidote.”  Sounds good to me.

Christmas book
In the past we have given you some books written specifically for Christmas.  In an article last year, Pamelas Douglas Webster suggested Truman Capote’s  A Christmas Memory among other Christmas books.

I laughed myself silly over Comfort and Joy, the antidote for all the holiday perfection pressure. Do give it a go. It may become one of your favorite Christmas books.

What do you read at Christmas time? Re read the classic Christmas books, or dive into a brand new mystery or romance with a holiday theme? Make a list in the comment section.

A reminder:  I am an Amazon affiliate.  The book covers here are linked to Amazon, as are some other links on this page.  When you do your shopping at Amazon, would you please get there by clicking one of my links? It will not cost you any extra, but it will help A Traveler’s Library stay in business. THANKS!