Shop  |  Calendar  |  Join  |  Buy Tickets  |  Hamnet  |  Site Rental  |  Press Room  
About UsWhat's OnUse the CollectionDiscover ShakespeareTeach & LearnFolger InstituteSupport Us
Folger Exhibitions
• Past Exhibitions
Fooles and Fricassees

   Sign up for E-news!
   Printer Friendly

Feasts & Fancies

Celebrating Christmas in England

The counterpart of the modern dessert, the banquet or sweetmeat course that followed an elaborate meal was a combination of both food and entertainment. Sweet foods were often prepared from published recipes: for example sugar paste or marmalade: and were sometimes believed to act as aphrodisiacs. Elaborate vessels made from expensive materials appeared on the banquet tables of the wealthy and enhanced the appearance of the sweets. Trenchers decorated with verses to be read aloud made the tablewares part of the banquet entertainment.


Elaborate foods and drinks played important roles in Christmas celebrations during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Christmas festivities often ended with a Twelfth Night banquet on the sixth of January, and the Christmas season was the time when the yeomanry and apprentices demanded finer quality bread and ale than they ordinarily received. This tradition, called "wassailing," provided an important opportunity for the gentry to demonstrate their hospitality. As Thomas Tusser counseled his readers, "At Christmas be merye, & thankful withall/ & feast thy poore neighbors ye gret with ye small."


Religious aspects of keeping Christmas changed during the seventeenth century, although many social customs like wassailing remained intact. Josiah King's book, illustrated here, mocks those who would suppress Christmas. The Puritan jury members are all mean, among them Mr. Eat-alone, Mr. Hoord-corne, and Mr. Cold-kitchin, and they are replaced by Mr. Warm-gut, Mr. Neighbour-hood, and Mr. Open-house, who acquit Father Christmas.

Josiah King. The examination and tryal of old Father Christmas. London, 1687

Bookmark and Share   
     Copyright & Policies   |   Sitemap   |   Contact Us   |   About This Site
201 East Capitol Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003
Get directions »

Federal Tax ID #04-2103542
PublicReading Room
10am to 5pm, Monday through Saturday8:45am to 4:45pm, Monday through Friday
12pm to 5pm, Sunday9am to noon and 1pm to 4:30pm, Saturday
Main: 202 544 4600
Box Office: 202 544 7077
Fax: 202 544 4623