Like a sparrow flying through a Mead Hall…
"...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..."
The Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English
Bede's Sparrow in the Hall
Winter in the Dark Ages was a long, drawn-out affair. There was no magic light switch you could flick on to banish the dark. Days were short. Nights were long. The world was in hibernation. Food was scarce, and it was cold. Winter was hard, and death from illness or starvation was a very real threat. It was no wonder that the pagans wanted to celebrate Midwinter and New Years Day.
Interestingly, it wasn't until the 4th Century when Church leaders in Rome embraced this pagan holiday and made it their own. And over the centuries this pagan celebration has been 'added' to, until we have the Christmas that we know and love today.
What was Christmas like in Arthurian Britain?
I need to make one thing clear before I begin — many of the stories that we know of Arthur and his Knights are just that, stories. There is nothing substantial to them. So a Christmas at Camelot would have been highly unlikely. The 12th Century French Poets certainly gave Arthur a castle for himself and his Knights, but Camelot itself didn't come about until the 15th Century when Thomas Malory invented it in his great work, Le Morte d'Arthur. Which kinds of puts a whole dampener on “Christmas in Camelot!”
Obviously, our Dark Age ancestors celebrated Midwinter and New Year, but when we are dealing with Arthur, we have to contend with a fictitious Christmas as well.
So today I am going to explore the kind of food you might have found at King Arthur's table at Christmas...
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!
War is coming to Saxon Briton…
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