of King Arthur
"...O King...you sit a supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, with a good fire in the midst, while the storms of rain and snow rage outside..."
What was Christmas like in Arthurian Britain?
|Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (from original manuscript, artist unknown) ~ Wikipedia|
In the 14th Century a poet, whose name has been lost over time, wrote an epic poem called Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Pearl Poet, as he became known, described Christmas at Camelot and, as with many things when we talk of Arthur, we can assume he used a great deal of poetic licence!
“…then they brought the first course, with the blast of trumpets and the waving of banners, with the sound of drums and pipes, so that many a heart was uplifted at the melody. Costly and most delicious foods were carried in. Many were the dainties, delicacies and fresh meats, so great was the plenty they might scarce find room on the board and table-cloth to set all the silver dishes. Each helped himself as he liked best, and for each of two guests were twelve dishes served, with a great plenty of beer and bright wine…”
According to The Pearl Poet, Arthur knew how to throw a party! One would expect a feast at the Midwinter/ New Year celebrations, but perhaps not on such a grand scale.
So what kind of food did the Dark Age Kings and Warlords serve up at a Midwinter Feast?
Pottage — which was the staple diet for most, but at a feast it would have been the best pottage you ever tasted. The Rolls-Royse of Pottage!
- Roasted Goose and Partridge may have been on the menu.
- Dry cured hams.
- A boars head.
- Eggs — preserved ones, because chickens tend to stop laying during the winter months. It is only how chickens are farmed nowadays that ensures we have fresh eggs throughout the year.
The only fresh vegetables would have been seasonal, but back in the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages for that matter, it was not recommended to eat raw fruit and veg, for fear of dysentery – one of the biggest killers of the time.
Of course, they would also have had ale, mead, wine and beer to wash it all down with! There may well have been one or two rosy faces by the end of the feast!
There would have been music, and entertainment. Maybe not quite on the scale of the Beheading Game that The Pearl Poet introduced us to in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but I should imagine there were jugglers and those with what we would call Circus Skills! Bards would tell wonderful stories to entertain the guests — perhaps they told stories of Arthur and his Knights — and as the evening wore on, old men would become philosophical, as they contemplated mortality.
It would have been a wonderful celebration that probably took many months in the planning. These Midwinter celebrations were so important. It was something to look forward too. And after Christmas and the New Year celebrations, spring was once again in sight and with so, the promise of life!
The Du Lac Chronicles