Saturday, January 26, 2013

For this post, I was inspired by a past Medieval Garden Intern, Stephan Hassam ( regarding the topic. He recommended A Medieval Book of Seasons as a good resource to explain the medieval winter, and since we are in the midst of some cold and snowy winter days ourselves here in Chicago, I thought we could explore some customs and beliefs relating to this season in the medieval age.

Winter was the cold and bare season to be prepared for, since one couldn’t ship food around countries like we do now, and grains and meat had to be stored up safely. Salting butter, cheese and meats was the method available to preserve these essential goods (smoking meat worked too). The women of this time “were faced with the pressing problem of feeding their families”[1] and supplemented ‘pottage’ (a kind of soup made from plants in medieval gardens-like our own!) with meats and occasional eggs. Marie Collins and Virginia Davis call winter, “that season when the work of the whole year could be assessed by the comfort, or lack of it, which forethought, hard labor and good or bad luck brought.”[2] Imagine caring for your own subsistence and providing what would be needed during the cold months, just with what nature provided-what would you have to do?

Medieval peoples had to “sow the winter’s wheat,” “preserve the health of animals over the winter period” and make sure that their lands and people would be prepared for the next planting and growing season. They also had to make and repair their own tools and clothes.

If all this sounds like a lot of work-don’t worry! They had fun back in those days too. In his research on children’s culture, Nicholas Orme says that children began their ‘winter’ fun on the 1st of November, when they could play with animals’ bladders as balls (the mother of our modern football season?)[3] They also had something like our Halloween, (6 times between November and the end of December!) in which school boys, “dressed up as other people, sang songs and asked for money or food” from people.

And, of course, medieval Europeans had Christmas! This was the time when all classes would gather together and feast and celebrate. Our guides, Collins and Davis, tell us that Christmas was the “culmination of the season of plenty,” when medieval peoples indulged and made good use of their autumn stores. To eat and drink they had “good drink (wines), a good fire in the hall, brawn, pudding, sauce, mustard, beef, mutton and pork, mince pies, goose,” just to name a few.[4] 

Here, you can see medieval snowball fights:

Well, stay warm as you enjoy our Chicago snow, maybe have some hot chocolate afterwards, and I’ll look forward to seeing you here next week for more info on gardens and the Middle Ages!

[1] Marie Collins and Virginia Davis, “Winter,” A Medieval Book of Seasons, (New York: Harper Collins, 1992), 121-135.
[2] Collins and Davis,  A Medieval Book of Seasons, 127.
[3] Nicholas Orme, “The Culture of Children in Medieval England.” Past and Present 148 (1995): 48-88
[4] Collins and Davis, A Medieval Book of Seasons, 134. 

1 comment:

  1. I love the image of the snowball fight! It is very fitting given all the snow that has fallen this past week.