Our word Christmas is derived from the Middle English usage "Christ's Mass," and central to the celebration of the Nativity was the liturgical activity which had been established by the year 600, and did not change in the Middle Ages. In Medieval England there were, in fact, three Masses celebrated on Christmas Day. The first and most characteristic was at midnight (the Angel's Mass), catching up the notion that the light of salvation appeared at the darkest moment of the darkest date in the very depth of winter. The second Christmas Mass came at dawn (the Shepherd's Mass), and the third during the day (the Mass of the Divine Word). The season of Advent, the forty days of leading up to Christmas, was being observed in the Western Church by the year 500. St. Nicholas was a very popular Medieval saint, and his feast day came in Advent (6 December), but he did not play his part in Christmas as Santa Claus until after the Reformation.Also important in the celebration of Christmas was the banquet, which necessarily varied in sumptuosness with the resources of the celebrants. The menu varied with soups and stews, birds and fish, breads and puddings, but a common element was the Yule boar, an animal for those who could afford it or a pie shaped like a boar for more humble tables. Churches and houses were decorated with ivy, mistletoe, holly, or anything green, which remained up until the eve of Candlemass. The gift-giving of the season was represented by the New Year Gift, which continued a tradition of Roman origin. The later Christmas present was not part of a Medieval Christmas. The sorts of things that people might have done to entertain themselves at Christmas apart from eating is succintly summarized in a letter written by Margaret Paston on Christmas Eve 1459 after she had inquired how her Norfolk neighbour, Lady Morley, had conducted her household in mourning the previous Christmas, just after Lady Morley had been widowed:
"...there were no disguisings [acting], nor harping, luting or singing, nor any lewd sports, but just playing at the tables [backgammon] and chess and cards. Such sports she gave her folk leave to play and no other."
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