Based on Roman custom, January 1st retained this name through the middle
ages even though the
date of the church year did not officially change until March 25th. The Roman custom of gift giving was observed on New Year's as one of the 12 days of Christmas
(starting Christmas day). Romans had exchanged strenae,
(French étrennes, Norman hoguinane, English handsels).
In Scotland, hogmanay first meant a gift made to the poor or to children
at the New Year.
the 13th century Henry III was criticized for
extorting New Year gifts. New Year's Day festivities, including
"handsels", are described in
the 14th C. poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:
New Year was so fresh that it was newly come,
That day double on the dais
was the company served,
the king was come with knights into the hall,
chanting from the chapel came to an end.
cries were there cast by clerks and others,
proclaimed anew, was named full often;
then nobles ran forth to give out handsels,
out year-gifts on high, yielded them by hand,
busily about the gifts;
laughed full loudly, though they had lost,
he that won was not wrathful; of that you may be sure.
King Edward III, on New Year's Day, 1376,
gave his daughter Isabella a
complete set of chapel furnishings and two saddles, one of red velvet
embroidered with gold violets, and one ornamented with suns of gold and
copper. Each of twelve ladies were presented with an ornamental bow,
to hunt with Isabella at Windsor.
15th C.: As Henry VII put on his shoes that morning,
trumpets sounded and a present arrived from the queen, followed by servants
of the leading courtiers each bearing gifts from them. In her own
chamber, the queen received hers. The royal couple had arranged for
reciprocal presents, usually in cash, to be sent out to the officers of the
household and to the chief lay and clerical dignitaries of the realm. . .
Upon the same morning the fifth earl of Northumberland was
awoken by minstrels playing before his door, followed by his own fanfare of
trumpets. He then received his gifts, making them in turn to his
sovereigns and his own household. Gentry exchanged presents with their
servants, not usually receiving any from royalty, but often dispatching them
to local aristocrats. Religious houses gave to their staff and to
each other. It is not clear whether gifts were exchanged between
commoners. . . At the end of the morning probably all the nobles and gentry who were keeping Christmas,
presided over a banquet; the evening was notable for
entertainments, from royal to parish level.
of the Circumcision:
From the 5th to the 10th centuries clerical writers denounced the
excesses of Kalendae,
especially the custom of dressing up in animal skins, antlers,
and horns. New Year's importance seems to have declined during the
medieval period, while that of Christmas day and Twelfth Night increased.
(Asses): Commemorates the flight of the holy family into Egypt. The
originally choir boys took over important offices
in the cathedral community for a day. In 10th century Germany the inferior clergy as well as the choir boys
were given periods of licence in the three days after Christmas. In
12th C. France this became the 'feast of fools',
and during the 13th and 14th centuries, this became the occasion for much buffoonery and