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Historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Tom Pinfold and Peter Ginn recreate how the farms of Tudor England celebrated the 12 days of Christmas with banquets and carol singing.

Historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Tom Pinfold and Peter Ginn turn the clock back 500 years to rediscover how the farms of Tudor England celebrated the 12 days of Christmas.

Although Christmas was celebrated very differently in Tudor times, if anything the celebrations were even bigger. All work stopped on Christmas Eve for 12 days of revelry and feasting. While Peter and Tom decorate the farmhouse with holly and ivy, Ruth prepares grand banquets for the farm workers. The Christmas Day feast was particularly special and featured a pig's head rather than a turkey as its centrepiece.

Most farmers could not afford to feast every day, but the monasteries held a special mass and banquet on each of the 12 days of Christmas. The fifth day, the Feast of Thomas Becket, was particularly important. Red meat was thought to stimulate virility, so monks ate poultry, such as swan and game. Tom and Ruth learn the art of falconry - the main way of catching game birds. The team also indulge in archery, the most popular sport of the era, whilst Tom learns how to make bagpipes, the most widely played instrument of the day.

The culmination of Christmas was marked by a frenzy of music, food and alcohol. The main treat was twelfth night cake. A dried pea was hidden in the cake - the precursor to the sixpence in a Christmas pudding - and whoever found it would be appointed the Lord of Misrule for the night, leading the celebrations. Tudor life was hierarchical and strictly organised, but at Christmas the rules were relaxed and the roles reversed.

Finally the revellers head out 'wassailing' - an early version of carol singing, which originated many songs still sung today, such as We Wish You a Merry Christmas and Ding Dong Merrily on High.

59 minutes

Last on

Mon 17 Dec 2018 20:00

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Credits

Role Contributor
Presenter Ruth Goodman
Presenter Peter Ginn
Presenter Tom Pinfold
Producer Stuart Elliott
Director Stuart Elliott
Executive Producer David Upshal

Broadcasts

  • Tue 31 Dec 2013 21:00
  • New Year's Day 2014 21:00
  • Mon 17 Dec 2018 20:00

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Presenters

Presenters

Meet the experts slogging it in the fields of the Tudor Monastery Farm.