Engage and inspire your students this festive season by hosting an Elizabethan Christmas in your classroom. Don’t worry – no cooking required!
Let me ask you something:
- Did you know that in the year 1588 Queen Elizabeth I declared that everyone should eat goose for Christmas dinner?
- Did you know that there were no Christmas trees in the Elizabethan times?
- Did you know during the 1600s midnight mass was held at dawn to celebrate the transition from darkness into light?
Interesting isn’t it?
Every time I teach a Shakespeare play – I find myself wondering “would they have done this in Elizabethan times?” My questions usually run to “did they play football?” (the answer is yes, it was called Gameball and was more violent than you can imagine) or “did they have oranges then?”(the answer is yes again, although only the very rich would have been able to afford them, they also had melons and pomegranates).
Last year in the run up to Christmas, I happened to be teaching a number of Shakespeare plays. By sheer luck my brain was stuffed full of the Elizabethans and so it wasn’t a surprise then when this question wormed its way in: “what was an Elizabethan Christmas like?”
If I had to sum up an Elizabethan Christmas in 3 words, I would choose: fun, collegial, symbolic.
Fun meant food and games and frivolity. The festive season for the Elizabethan was the moment in the year where the hard work of life ceased and every man, woman, and child celebrated the festival of mid-winter.
Collegial and shared celebrations were the norm for all. At this point of the year the rigidity of social class structures dissolved. Noble man and peasant would stand side by side to share in Christmas cheer.
Symbolism and ritual were also the hallmark of this season. The Christmas Candle, the Yule log, Wassailing, and the 7 course banquet all played a role in making Christmas truly spectacular period for the Elizabethans.
So how can you bring some Elizabethan fun into your classroom?
Read a poem about an Elizabethan Christmas
Read Thomas Tusser’s poem “Christmas Cheer” as an introduction to Elizabethan Christmas festivities and perhaps even study some Elizabethan Christmas Carols in your lessons.
My “Host an Elizabethan Christmas” set includes Tusser’s poem along with other authentic texts describing an Elizabethan Christmas. It also includes 4 Elizabethan carols for your students to read, understand, and explain.
Work together to host an Elizabethan Christmas
Create a beautiful Christmas community in your classroom with this fun and informative group work task. Here’s how it works:
In groups, students learn about the different elements of an Elizabethan Christmas (for example Christmas decorations, or the Yule Log). They then have 2 creative tasks to share with the class:
- first, create a visual summary of what they have learnt (see the sunburst sheet for an example below) and then and most importantly,
- they make their gift to contribute to the class Elizabethan Christmas. There are 6 groups and they make: the feast (see the peacock, goose and ships); the yule log; the Christmas candle; a people paper chain, decorations; and Christmas stars. Each one of these represents the ritual and symbolism of an Elizabethan Christmas.
Everything you need to set up this group work activity is included in my Elizabethan Christmas pack. It is almost as easy as print and go (you just need scissors, glue, colors and you are done!)
Once the groups have made their gifts, they can give a presentation covering what they have learned and this foldable mini-book is a great place for students to record their new knowledge.
That’s not all..!
This set also includes:
- A description game to guess the complete menu of a Tudor 7 course Christmas banquet.
- A guide to creating your own Elizabethan Christmas banquet.
- An explanation of the tradition of The Lord Of Misrule, with an opportunity to become a modern day Lord of Misrule.
- Information on Mummer’s Plays and their purpose, and a modern re-imagining of this traditional hero story.
- Some Elizabethan Christmas games and how to play them, including “Hide fox and after all”; “Hotcockles” and “Snapdragon”.
- Last but not least, an exploration of the tradition of Wassailing and its reinvention into carol singing or yule-singing.
This fun and engaging set contains 3 days+ of activities and will bring some hilarity, joy, and a lot Christmas history into your classroom. Click here to go straight to this set.