- December 14, 2019
10:15 am - 4:00 pm
Christmas in Early England
with Dr Sam Newton (Director, Wuffing Education)
at Sutton Hoo on Saturday 14th December 2019
Rediscover the magic of Christmas with an exploration of the significance of the midwinter festival in early England and how it was celebrated.
We begin the day with a look at the Old English calendar, which we can reconstruct from the information provided by the early eighth-century Northumbrian scholar Bede in his work, De Temporvm Ratione Liber, “Book on the Reckoning of Time”. Not only does this document indicate how the pre-Christian year was structured, it also allows us to suggest some of the ways in which it formed the foundation for the Christian calendar among the English-speaking peoples. For example, Christmas Eve was known as Módra Niht, ‘Mothers’ Night’, in the old calendar, perhaps because it originally referred to the longest night of the winter, out of which the new year was born.
We shall then consider what the evidence of archaeology shows us about the Yuletide feast in early England. Excavations of feasting hall-sites and of rich barrow-burials, which have revealed fine drinking vessels and other feasting accoutrements, enable us to see where and how the midwinter festival was celebrated.
We shall bring the archaeology to life with the references to feasting in Old English, Middle English, and Old Norse sources, completing the day with the vivid account of Christmas at Camelot from the Middle English poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
09.45 – 10.15: Welcome; tea / coffee
10.15 – 11.10: The Old English Calendar
11.10 – 11.35: Tea / coffee / biscuits
11.35 – 12.30: The Old English Yuletide Feast (1)
12.30 – 13.45: Lunch break
13.45 – 14.35: The Old English Yuletide Feast (2)
14.35 – 15.00: Tea / coffee / biscuits
15.00 – 15.50: Christmas at Camelot –Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
15.50: 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 Reckoning of King Rædwald: the Story of the King linked to the Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial, in 2003. He is also the author of several academic papers, some of which are available at https://independent.academia.edu/SamNewton. He has lectured widely around the country and contributed to many radio and television programmes, especially Time Team, for whom he worked from 2005 to 2012. He is a tutor for Cambridge University’s Institute of Continuing Education, an accredited Arts’ Society lecturer, and a Director of Wuffing Education.
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
- Barron, W.R.J. (ed. & tr.), Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Manchester 1974).
- 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 Hollander, American-Scandinavian Foundation (Austin 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).
- Orchard, A., Cassell’s Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend (London 1997).
- Tolkien, J.R.R. (tr), Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Sir Orfeo, ed. C.Tolkien (Unwin 1975).
- Turville-Petre, E.O.G., Myth and Religion of the North – The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia (London 1964).
Venue: The Court, Sutton Hoo