December 15, 2013

Twelve Days of Tudor Christmas: Decorations

On the second day of our Tudor Christmas, we will discuss Tudor Christmas Decorations.

Tudor Christmas decorations at Trerice.
The familiar sights of lights, Christmas trees, and red bows in our own homes is a far cry from what the people of Tudor times used to decorate their homes. 

Greenery of the season, along with dried fruit, berries, and candles, constituted the bulk of Tudor Christmas decorations. A good example of what a Tudor home would have looked like decorated is seen at Trerice (above). Large bows of green garland are draped over railings and doors, with oranges, covered in decorative patterns using cloves, adorning the table. Hampton Court Palace also has a very good example of Tudor Christmas decorations. Seen in the image to the left, the window centerpiece is a combination of candles, dried oranges, and greenery.

Despite the fact that the Christmas tree did not become popular in England until the reign of Queen Victoria, Christmas trees did exist during the Renaissance.

According to legend, monks in Germany used the "Christmas" Fir tree as a symbol of the trinity. It became popular to have them displayed, especially around Holy Days such as Christmas. The first decorated Christmas tree on record was at Riga, Latvia in 1510.

Legend has it that Martin Luther added the first "Christmas lights" to his Christmas tree. While traveling home one night, he was struck by the beauty of the stars shining through the branches of the trees about him. He took a small tree home and placed candles on it to show his children how the stars would shine all night through the branches of the trees.

One of the most popular decorations in Tudor times was the "Kissing Bough." This hanging decoration was made from woven ash or willow wood, covered in greenery. In the center of the bough was placed a small effigy of the baby Jesus. The bough was hung by the door to the home. Whenever someone visited the home, they were embraced under the bough as a sign of goodwill. This tradition eventually became attached to mistletoe, which was commonly used to make the "Kissing Bough."

Another popular Christmas decoration was the Advent Wreath. The use of the Advent Wreath dates back to the Middle Ages. It served a double purpose; as decoration and as a tool for spiritual preparation for the holy season.

The wreath was made of various evergreens, which symbolized continuous life, formed in shape of a circle, which represented the continuity of God, with no beginning or end. Four candles, representing the 4000 years between Adam and Eve and the birth of Christ, were placed in the wreath. Three of the candles were purple, and one was rose in color. Each had a specific meaning, and would be lit on different nights. The three purple candles symbolized prayer, penance, and good works. The rose candle represented the midpoint of the Advent season.

Decorations were extremely important to the Tudors, just as they are to us today. Decorating marked the beginning and the end of the holiday season. It was considered bad luck to leave Christmas decorations up after Candlemas (Feb. 2).

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