The Old English Yuletide Feast
with Dr Sam Newton (Independent Scholar)
at Sutton Hoo, Saturday, 10th December, 2016.


We begin the day with a look at the Old English calendar, which reveals how the pre-Christian year was structured.  We shall then consider how this calendar was transformed into the Christian year – how, for example, did Módra Niht, “Mothers’ Night” become Christmas Eve?  We shall also consider some of the ways in which the feast of Yule and the Nativity came to be celebrated in early England, using indications from archaeology, Old English and Old Norse literature, and Anglo-Saxon art, especially the Franks’ Casket.

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15:          Coffee on arrival

10.15 – 11.15:          The Old English Calendar

11.15 – 11.40:          Coffee break

11.40 – 12.40:          The Old English Yuletide Feast (1)

12.40 – 14.00:          Lunch break

14.00 – 14.50:          The Old English Yuletide Feast (2)

14.50 – 15.10:          Tea break

15.10 – 16.00:          What has Wayland to do with Christ?

c.16.00:                   Thanks and Close

About Dr Sam Newton

Sam Newton was awarded his Ph.D at UEA in 1991.  He published his first book, The Origins of Beowulf and the pre-Viking Kingdom of East Anglia in 1993, and his second, The Reckoning of King Rædwald: the Story of the King linked to the Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial in 2003. He has lectured widely around the country and has contributed to many radio and television programmes over the years, especially Time Team.  He is a tutor for Cambridge University’s Institute of Continuing Education, an accredited NADFAS lecturer, and a Director of the Wuffing Education Study-Day Partnership at Sutton Hoo.


When asked “What was best about the day?” at a previous Study Day by Sam on the topic, people said:

  • A wonderful range of sources and materials, explained with Sam’s characteristic enthusiasm and expertise.  Great to have time for questions and discussion.
  • The old English calendar linking nature, life, economy and its cheeky use in the transition to Christianity.  Interesting and philosophy
  • Excellent speaker, excellent sessions and excellent slides
  • Singing and reading Anglo-Saxon, with English and the Francks casket
  • Hearing old English spoken and sung
  • Playing of the lyre.  Informative and enjoyable in a relaxed way.  Found the English calendar fascinating, listening to Sam read in middle English

Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

Alexander, M., The First Poems in English (Penguin Classics 2008)

Branston, B., The Lost Gods of England (Thames & Hudson 1957, 1974)

Chaney, W.A., The Cult of Kingship in Anglo-Saxon England (Manchester 1970)

Ellis Davidson, H., The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe (Routledge 1993)

Evans, A., The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial (British Museum 1986)

Sturluson, Snorri, Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway, tr. Lee M. Hollander, American-Scandinavian Foundation (Austin, Texas, 1964)

Hutton, R., The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain (Oxford 1996).

Lee, C., Feasting the Dead: Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon Burial Rituals (Woodbridge 2007)

Mayr-Harting, H., The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England, 3rd edn (Philadelphia 1991)

Newton, S., The Reckoning of King Rædwald (Redbird 2003)

Orchard, A., Cassell’s Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend (London 1997).

Turville-Petre, E.O.G., Myth and Religion of the North – The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia (London 1964)