[You’re Dead to Me] Medieval Christmas

Medieval Christmas 17/12/21 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: https://podcastaddict.com/episode/132816472

Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/6/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p0bbd152.mp3

Greg and his guests Miles Jupp and Dr Eleanor Janega go back to the medieval Christmas for this one-off festive special. We look at the history and traditions that have thankfully continued through the ages, like gift-giving and stuffed wild boars (although numbers on stuffed wild boar we’re told are down from previous years) and some that have mysteriously fallen off from the radar completely, like the masked carol singers and jellied eels. Research – Lloyd Roberts Script- Emma Nagouse and Greg Jenner Project Management – Siefe Miyo Edit Producer – Cornelius Mendez

Listen Date: 1 to 2 September 2022


  • OK, this was the episode where Dr Janega talked about Christianity having a past, present, and future. The context was that antiquity and the medieval period were obsessed with trying to find the exact date of Jesus’s birth; and at some point a pope regretfully said that it was impossible. However, 25 December was chosen because it comes nine months after 25 March, which is the feast day of the time when Mary first saw God. Ha.
  • Dr Janega mentioned that Christianity was actively trying to coopt and Christianise existing holidays; and all through Europe, there used to be a feast just after the solstice to celebrate that winter was halfway over, so they turned Christmas into a feasting holiday. But the way she put it reminded me of the quote from Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol: On every world, wherever people are, in the deepest part of the winter, at the exact midpoint, everybody stops, and turns, and hugs, as if to say “Well done. Well done, everyone! We’re halfway out of the dark.”
  • Apart from this, Advent was a fasting period to get you pure enough to deserve the feasting. And there were twelve days of Christmas, running from Christmas Day to Epiphany (January 6). Which is how we get the song and also Twelfth Night. And that was twelve days of partying.
  • Apparently the partying would even go on until February, and the feast of Candlemas.
  • Advent is a movable feast, apparently – it begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, so you can have very short or very long Advents.
  • Cue the panel talking about how chocolate Advent calendars just don’t match the medieval way of doing things, and how neither does being exhausted and partied out on Boxing Day.
  • Another fun thing I learned was the Yule Log: whoever was rich enough to have a fireplace that big would get a log big enough to burn (without going out) through all twelve days of Christmas.
  • And of course there were flatulence references.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s