January First: New Year's Day, the Feast of the Circumcision,
Kalendae, the Feast of Fools, the 8th day of Christmas.

  January Twenty-fifth: the beginning of the regnum year in 1376.

  March Twenty-fifth: the beginning of the church year.

  September Twenty-ninth: the beginning of the agricultural year.


  New Year's Day:  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.   In 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: 

While New Year was so fresh that it was newly come,
That day double on the dais was the company served,

Forth the king was come with knights into the hall,

The chanting from the chapel came to an end.

Loud cries were there cast by clerks and others,

Noel! proclaimed anew, was named full often;

And then nobles ran forth to give out handsels,

Called out year-gifts on high, yielded them by hand,

Debated busily about the gifts;

Ladies laughed full loudly, though they had lost,

And he that won was not wrathful; of that you may be sure.

  15th century clock, Exeter Cathedral

  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.

  .   Late 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.

.  Feast 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.     

  Feast of Fools (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 satire.

Medieval Calendars