On December 12th, the Yule Log would be put into the dining room fireplace. This log was kept burning until January sixth, with enough left over to kindle the following year’s Yule Log. The custom of burning the Yule Log dates back before medieval times and was originally a Nordic tradition left over from the pagan days of celebrating the Winter Solstice.
Mince pies were prepared, basically as they are today. But also a specialty called a "stack" cake would be served.
Another cake would be prepared with a bean baked into one slice. The person who got that particular slice became the King of Misrule. He would rule from Christmas day to Twelfth Night, performing various trifling acts to ensure good weather for the next year. He’d also preside over celebrations, and sometimes cause mischief. This custom can be traced back to ancient Rome, when the King (or Lord) of Misrule was appointed for the feast of Saturnalia, and he represented the good god Saturn. During this time the ordinary rules of life were reversed as masters served their slaves.
Back to the eighteenth century, for holiday decoration, a Christmas Bush would be fashioned using two wooden rings. Binding the rings side by side, fresh cuttings of evergreen, boxwood and sweet William were added. Bright red apples, some rare lemons and pine cones were included for color.
On Christmas day, after dark, the bush was hung in the window with a candle at its center.
For a table centerpiece, a wooden cone adorned with headless nails was speared with apples. Boxwood was stuffed around the apples, and a pineapple put on the top.
On Christmas morning, the people attended church service. Returning to their residence, the home’s owner would enter the house with two sprigs of holly, thus ensuring he would remain master of his house for the coming year.
Then the meal would be laid out for family and friends who might drop by. A punchbowl filled with tea, sugar, pineapple juice and rum was placed next to the centerpiece. As well as the punch, another popular drink was "bumbo" made with rum and sweetened water.
Muskets and pistols would be fired outside to augment the Christmas festivity.
Celebrations and church attendance on specific days would last until Twelfth Night. This tradition marks the feast of Epiphany, when the three wise men brought gifts to the baby Jesus.
Sources: Wikipedia and the Virginiana Room at the Rappahannock Regional Library, Fredericksburg, Virginia.
And the Williamsburg Marketplace
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