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A Merry Elizabethan Christmas

Updated: Aug 14, 2022

Welcome to our two-part series on the Elizabethan holiday season! This week, we’ll tap into Elizabethan Christmas, as this holiday was shared by both dominating religious groups of the time: Protestantism (England’s official religion) and Catholicism (not the official religion but still maintained a strong presence).

Topics include:

Twelve Days of Christmas

Lord of Misrule


Yule log





Shakespeare Quotes


Twelve Days of Christmas

Back then, Christmas celebrations spread across 12 days: December 25 - January 6. During this time, people of all classes enjoyed merry activities, from games to music and devouring fun foods!

Lord of Misrule

From plays to feasts, the Lord of Misrule (AKA: Abbot of Misrule or King of Misrule) organized much of the excitement. This person served as a clown or jester figure, representing the temporary withdrawal from the strictness of proper society.

John Stow’s 1598 Survey of London claims the Mayor and Sheriffs “had their several Lords of Misrule, ever contending without quarrel or offence, who should make the rarest pastimes to delight the beholders.”

Not-So-Fun Fact: The English Court stopped appointing Lords of Misrule after Edward VI’s death in 1553.

Click the button for a short, exciting video on the Lord of Misrule from Lucy Worsley's 12 Days of Tutor Christmas on PBS!


Homes were decorated with lots of green! Holly and ivy were perhaps the hugest hits. But yew, bay, holm oak, and box were still common.

Holm Oak with Acorns

Chruches were also filled with greenery. Additionally, a Christ Child would sometimes sit atop the altar. The Italian’s now-famous nativity scene has not popularized itself in England yet.

In A SURVEY OF LONDON, Stow wrote, "Against the feast of Christmas every man's house, as also their parish churches, were decked with holm, ivy, bays, and whatsoever the season of the year afforded to be green. The conduits and the standards in the streets were likewise garnished. Amongst which I read, that in the year 1444, by tempest of thunder and lightning, on the first of February at night, Paul's steeple was fired, but with great labour quenched, and towards the morning of Candlemas day, at the Leadenhall in Comhill, a standard of tree, being set up in the pavement fast in the ground, nailed full of holm and ivy, for disport of Christmas to the people, etc."

Yule Log

As for the Yule log, a log or wooden block would be taken from the central trunk of a tree on Christmas Eve. The men of the family would then drag it into the hall, where each family member would sit atop it and sing a Yule song. Next, it was thrown into the fireplace where it would be lit along with a piece of the previous year’s log. Together, they were to burn through the night.

Bringing in a Yule Log


Regarding mistletoe, it was supposedly first mentioned in relation to Christmas in 1622. But in that reading, it appears to have already been a custom - not new. So… we don’t have the full story :)

HOWEVER there was something similar: the Christmas Bough! It was a wreath or globe under which people embraced as a sign of goodwill.

Here’s a short video if you want to make your own!


During this season, the more financially fortunate were expected to provide for the lower classes. For instance, estate owners provided their tenants with at least one very generous feast!

As Thomas Tusser put in his 1573 Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, “At Christmas we banquet, the rich with the poor. / Who then (but the miser) but openeth his door.”

Now… onto the specific foods!


Let’s start with goose since it was the most traditional.

Fun Fact: Historians believe that in 1588, Elizabet