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Dec 10

A Merry Medieval Christmas by Claire Delacroix

SONY DSCI’m delighted to welcome multi-published author and fellow Canadian, Claire Delacroix. What better time to whisk us back in time to enjoy a medieval Christmas.

Great to be here, Anna.

A medieval Christmas is just about irresistible to me, and I find myself writing quite a number of festive seasons in my books. What better time to get married? I also write a lot of linked series, so holiday gatherings make sense in terms of story. What better time to have the family gather, and for all of us to catch up with heroes and heroines from previous books?

A medieval Christmas feels almost nostalgic, as many of our familiar holiday traditions have their roots in the Middle Ages. It begins with the date chosen for Christ’s nativity, which is not given a date in the New Testament at all. Many pagan cultures, however, celebrated a holiday in late December, to mark the winter solstice and the time when the days began to get longer again. In Rome, December 25 was Saturnalia, a celebration of the deity Saturn scheduled at the winter solstice and the most popular holiday, marked by feasting and merriment. In the 3rd and 4th centuries in imperial Rome, the Birthday of the Sun was celebrated on December 25. It makes sense in a way that after the Emperor Constantine officially converted the Roman Empire to Christianity, the birthday of the Son (and the beginning of the new religion) would be placed upon December 25. This took advantage of an established holiday, and the tradition of feasting and celebrating a new beginning continued.

By the Middle Ages, the Christmas season had been extended to the Twelve Days that are now familiar to us. It made sense to cluster feast days together at a time of year when peasants in the northern hemisphere could take time away from their work in the fields, and this began in the fourth and fifth centuries. Epiphany (January 6) is the celebration of Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist and was added to mark the end of the Christmas season. The feast of the first Christian martyr (Stephen) was celebrated on December 26, the feast day for John the Evangelist was on December 27 and the feast day to commemorate the slaughter of the Holy Innocents was on December 28. The word “Yule”, used in Scandinavia for celebrations of the winter solstice, began to be used to refer to the Twelve Days of Christmas after the Danish invasions into England in the ninth century.

So, we had the date, the feasting, the tradition of twelve days of festivities and the word “Yule” by the ninth century. We would find some familiar food in a medieval court on Christmas Day, including roast fowl—not turkeys, but geese, ducks, pheasants and even peacocks—and roast game, like venison and boar. Christmas Eve would be celebrated as a fast day, which means that fish would be served, a tradition which continues in many families. Dried fruits would be used with spices at this time of year—both were expensive, and seen as festive fare. The dense cake of dried fruit that we call Christmas cake has its origin in this era, as does mulled wine, which is wine warmed with spices. I suspect that plum pudding—a steamed cake of dried fruit and spices—also has its origins in the medieval era.

The wassail cup was known by the early Middle Ages, and was initially a cup passed from one person to the next. Wassail comes from the Old English for ‘be of good health’—the person with the cup would say “Wassail!”, drink from the cup, then kiss the next person, who would reply “Drinkhail!” By the fourteenth century, the wassail cup was replaced by a wassail bowl and we see its descendant as a punch bowl at holiday gatherings.

‘Bringing in the greens’ was part of many pagan solstice celebrations, and medieval courts would also be decorated with greenery at this season. Although we don’t know for certain what these decorations looked like, when I hang the cedar garlands on our porch each year and put the wreath on the front door, I think there must be an echo of the past in these ornaments. Beeswax candles would, of course, be part of any celebration in the darkness of winter in a medieval hall. The Yule log was also an established part of the festivities by the Middle Ages and bringing it into the hall might have been part of bringing in the greens. The Yule log was a log large enough to burn for the entire twelve days. Remember that these halls had enormous fireplaces. After Epiphany, a piece of the Yule log would be stored carefully away. It would be used to light the Yule log the subsequent year, and having that piece was supposed to be a safeguard against fire.

In addition to religious services, singing and dancing were both popular elements of the holiday celebration. By the fourteenth century, the word carol, which simply means song, comes to be used specifically for songs composed for singing at Christmas. Short plays and skits called mummings were performed, as well, particularly in England—this seems likely to me to be the root of the holiday pantomime. There were also spontaneous performances featuring ‘topsy-turviness’ like role reversals, in which everyone participated. A boy from the choir would be appointed bishop for the day, or the lord might change places for a day with a young peasant from the village. Men might dress as women and women as men, and cross-dressing certainly survives as an element of the Christmas pantomime.

Finally, charity was an enormous part of the Christmas celebration for the medieval nobility, as they were expected to give lavishly to the poor, as well as to host feasts for the peasants in their holdings. You brought your spoon, your napkin and your appetite to dinner at your lord’s hall on these feast days. I love the inventories of supplies for these big feasts, as they show not only an attention to detail characteristic of medieval people but give an idea of just how much food had to be prepared. Those kitchens must have been busy places!

ClaireDelacroix_TheWarriorsPrize_200This December, I have a new medieval romance being published, and not surprisingly, it ends with a Christmas wedding. The Warrior’s Prize is the fourth book in my True Love Brides series. The links between books actually go back farther than that, because the True Love Brides series continues the stories of the siblings at my fictional Scottish estate of Kinfairlie, which began with The Jewels of Kinfairlie trilogy. The Jewels of Kinfairlie trilogy tells of the descendants of the family introduced in The Rogue, book #1 of my Rogues of Ravensmuir trilogy. In essence, The Warrior’s Prize is the 10th connected book, and not the first to recount events at Christmas.

The Rogue introduces both the estate of Ravensmuir and its sister holding of Kinfairlie. That story begins at Christmas, although it doesn’t appear that the holiday will be very festive for Ysabella. She has been estranged from her husband, Merlyn, the Laird of Ravensmuir, for five years when he seeks her out. Merlyn believes that someone is trying to kill him and asks Ysabella to help him identify the villain. They’ve been separated for five years because Ysabella learned to distrust her alluring rogue of a husband, so she declines to help. On Christmas morning, she learns that he is dead and that she has inherited his holding of Ravensmuir, an isolated and lonely keep perched on the coast. On the one hand, she and her family will have more material comfort for the holidays than they would have had; on the other, she realizes just how much she had hoped that she and Merlyn would reconcile one day. With him dead, that seems to be out of the question—unless, of course, Merlyn is not dead and simply ensuring that Ysabella helps him in his quest, whether that might have been her choice or not. It’s not really a spoiler for me to tell you that all is well at Ravensmuir by Epiphany!ClaireDelacroix_TheRogue_200

Kinfairlie, the sister estate of Ravensmuir, was ruined in The Rogue, but was subsequently rebuilt by Merlyn and Ysabella’s son, Roland. Roland married Catherine and they had eight children. We meet those children very briefly at the end of The Warrior, then they have their own series, The Jewels of Kinfairlie. That series begins when Alexander, the oldest of the eight siblings, becomes Laird of Kinfairlie and realizes that he must see his sisters wed. The Beauty Bride, first in the trilogy, recounts the story of Madeline’s arranged marriage to Rhys. Alexander subsequently arranges Vivienne’s marriage to Erik in The Rose Red Bride, then in The Snow White Bride, the sisters avenge themselves upon their oldest brother by making him a match with Eleanor.

The Snow White Bride is set at Christmas, as well, as Eleanor seeks a safe haven on Christmas Eve in Kinfairlie’s chapel. She finds instead a family beyond that she has ever known—the story culminates with a mummer’s play being used as a feint. To say any more would be a spoiler, but it’s a fun scene. I liked at the time that the final book in that trilogy ended at Kinfairlie at Christmas with the family gathered for the holidays. At this point, Ravensmuir had been destroyed, but Kinfairlie was thriving.ClaireDelacroix_TheSnowWhiteBride_200px

Of course, there were still five siblings who needed their stories told and a keep that had to be rebuilt. The True Love Brides recounts four of those stories: it begins with The Renegade’s Heart, then continues with The Highlander’s Curse. In The Frost Maiden’s Kiss, Malcolm, heir to Ravensmuir and grandson of Merlyn and Ysabella, returns and rebuilds the keep. My December release is The Warrior’s Prize, the final book in the True Love Brides series, which ends at Kinfairlie at Christmas, with a wedding, and much of the family gathered to celebrate the season.

There’s one more brother, Ross, who has gone to Inverfyre, the Highland holding we first visited in The Scoundrel and again in The Warrior. The Hawk of Inverfyre (hero of The Warrior) is Ross’s uncle and has welcomed his nephew to train alongside his own sons. We haven’t visited Inverfyre in a while, or caught up with Ross since his departure. You won’t be surprised to learn that there will be another series launched in 2015, one that includes Ross’s story, and those of his cousins at Inverfyre. I have a funny feeling it’s going to begin in the Highlands, at Christmas.ClaireDelacroix_TheFrostMaidensKiss200

In the meantime, I hope you have a merry Christmas! Tell me what family traditions you keep that feel medieval to you, and you could win a signed trade paperback copy of The Warrior’s Prize (which will be mailed to the winner in January.)

Deborah Cooke sold her first book, a medieval romance called The Romance of the Rose, in 1992. It was published under the pseudonym Claire Delacroix. Since then, she has published over fifty romance novels in a wide variety of subgenres, including medieval romance, time travel romance, contemporary romance, paranormal romance and paranormal young adult fiction, writing as Claire Delacroix, Claire Cross and Deborah Cooke. The Beauty by Claire Delacroix, part of her popular Bride Quest II trilogy of medieval romances, was her first book to land on the New York Times’ List of Bestselling Books. She is also a USA Today Bestselling and #1 Kindle Bestselling author, and was appointed RWA PRO Mentor of the Year in 2012. Deborah lives in Canada with her husband.

You can learn more about her books at her website: http://deborahcooke.com 

Keep up to date with her news by liking her Facebook pages:
https://www.facebook.com/AuthorClaireDelacroix
https://www.facebook.com/AuthorDeborahCookeFanPage 

Or receive a monthly update by subscribing to her newsletter: http://eepurl.com/UCUdf

The Warrior’s Prize is available for pre-order here:
http://www.amazon.com/Warriors-Prize-True-Love-Brides-ebook/dp/B00O0Y22M6
http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/the-warrior-s-prize
https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-warriors-prize/id897505003?mt=11&uo=4

For those of you who love excerpts, here are some links:

http://deborahcooke.com/claire-delacroix-books/the-true-love-brides/the-warriors-prize/
http://deborahcooke.com/claire-delacroix-books/the-rogues-of-ravensmuir/the-rogue/
http://deborahcooke.com/claire-delacroix-books/the-jewels-of-kinfairlie/the-snow-white-bride/
http://deborahcooke.com/claire-delacroix-books/the-true-love-brides/the-frost-maidens-kiss/

Thanks, Claire.

Remember you can qualify to win a copy of The Warrior’s Prize by leaving a comment. And then go to my December Giveaway Page and enter to win a Kindle Fire HD6.

31 comments

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  1. Claire Delacroix

    Good morning, Anna! Thanks so much for hosting me today. 🙂

    Claire

    1. Anna Markland

      It was a pleasure hosting you.

  2. Catherine Kean

    What an intriguing post, Claire! It’s fascinating to read about the origins of our Christmas traditions. My husband is British, and so is my father, so we always have Plum Pudding on Christmas Day, served with warm custard-brandy sauce. Yum!

    1. Claire Delacroix

      Thanks Catherine. Did he play Snapdragon? I’m not sure if that Christmas game is medieval or not, though it is British, so I left it out. My auntie used to bake our plum pudding for us as a gift – my mom served it with rum sauce and it was delicious.

  3. Linda

    Wow! Love the covers.

    1. Claire Delacroix

      Thanks Linda!

  4. Marsha

    Thanks for a chance! Merry Christmas

    1. Claire Delacroix

      Good luck, Marsha, and a merry Christmas to you and yours!

      c

  5. Joann Hunter

    I love your Kinfairlie stories!

    1. Claire Delacroix

      Thanks Joann!

  6. Kathryn Le Veque

    Claire Delacroix is one of my favorite authors and favorite people. She’s a wealth of information and a classy lady. Love this look back at Medieval Christmas – great info on the Wassail cup!

    1. Claire Delacroix

      Awww, thanks Kat! One of the very happy things that’s happened this year is that I’ve gotten to know you a bit better. I’m so excited about the future for the Queens of Medieval Romance.

      Here’s to a wonderful 2015!

  7. Kathy Otten

    I’ve been reading books by Claire Delacroix for years. One of my go-to authors I buy without reading the blurb. Thanks for all the fun info on medieval Christmases. I always enjoy these bits of history.

    1. Claire Delacroix

      Thank you, Kathy, for reading my books!

      c

  8. Jacqueline Seewald

    Hi, Claire,

    A very interesting post. Also, I love the cover art on your novels.

    1. Claire Delacroix

      Thanks Jacqueline – I like the covers, too.

      btw, the heroine in my medieval The Beauty is named Jacqueline, spelled just the way you do. 🙂

      c

  9. Eileen Dandashi

    Christmas is seeped in medieval traditions. The celebration of Christmas itself has pagan beginnings. I love fruit cake, something I like to eat during this time and enjoy my eggnog. It’s not mulled wine, but it has spices and alcohol. Nuts and dried fruit are a favorite all year around for our family, but I know they are more prominent for many during the holidays.

    I love Claire Delacroix’s work and look forward to more of her reads.

    This is my first drop by Anna Markland, and not my last.

    1. Claire Delacroix

      You know, Eileen, eggnog might have medieval roots. I’m not sure, but alcohol and spice is a very big medieval combo. It would be after the Crusades, of course, because the Europeans learned how to distill from the Arabs, but it could be contemporary with eau-de-vie. Thanks for popping by to visit!

    2. Anna Markland

      Welcome back anytime, Eileen

  10. Ang from OZ

    Hi Deb and Anna,

    Well living in OZ, I wouldn’t say we have medieval traditions. And as it’s normally scorching hot, we don’t usually do much more than stuff our faces and then try and get cool!! But we normally try and get in a game of backyard cricket!!

    Great post Deb, and thanks for the contest! 🙂

    1. Claire Delacroix

      LOL Ang – I remember the first time an Aussie reader told me they were going to the beach for a barbeque for Christmas dinner. It melted all my preconceptions about the season! 🙂 We will likely have snow.

      I think I told you about my neighbour’s daughter marrying an Aussie here at Christmas. His whole family came and they were clearly hoping for a picture-postcard Christmas, but of course, we had a green Christmas that year. Then, on the morning they were going to leave, we had hoarfrost, which was perfect. Hoarfrost happens when the air is damp and it’s foggy, but then the temperature suddenly drops. The moisture congeals as ice, a thin coat on everything, and the morning afterward is often sunny, so the ice glistens on all the trees and bushes. It looks like a fairy wonderland, everything coated in diamonds, until maybe 10 or 11 when it all melts. So, they woke up to this wonderful winter wonderland, and had an easy drive to the airport with no delays, a perfect end to an Cdn Christmas wedding. 🙂

      c

    2. Claire Delacroix

      I’ll bet you still have fruitcake…

  11. Cat

    I love Claire’s books and can’t wait to dive into this new book. Anna Markland is another fantastic author and I fell in love with her books in the FitzRam series. It was a pleasure having these 2 authors together on one page!

    1. Claire Delacroix

      Thank you, Cat! It’s wonderful to see you here. 🙂

    2. Anna Markland

      Thanks for the kudos, Cat. I have a soft spot in my heart for the FitzRams.

  12. Lauren May

    Oh wow, how will I ever keep all the books in order? Thanks, Claire – I enjoyed learning how they all connect. 🙂

    1. Claire Delacroix

      That’s easy, Lauren – you can just go and download the printable PDF bookmark (in colour or in black-and-white) from my store. All of my books are listed on it in order. 🙂

      c

      1. Claire Delacroix

        Ha – I need another coffee – I forgot to include the link!

        https://deborahcooke.selz.com/categories/free-stuff

  13. Emma Creighton

    Your books look amazing. I’m going to have to do a little shopping.

    1. Claire Delacroix

      Thanks Emma!

      I have a special deal right now – a boxed set of 3 of my Scottish medieval romances called Highland Heroes, which is only $2.99. The price will be going up next week, but it’s a good sample of my work at a nice price. There are more details here:

      http://deborahcooke.com/claire-delacroix-books/boxed-sets/highland-heroes/

      c

  14. jeanne sheats

    I too think the covers are just gorgeous and I look forward to reading your books. Happy Holidays.

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