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30 Days of Christmas Day 25: Her Royal Highness' Christmastide

An Elizabethan Christmas
My old friend Simon,
I have thought of you often in recent days. It has been some years since we last met and I sent you off to Scotland. I am certain you have grown ancient, for I myself am old. It came to my mind to write to you of my days in Christmastide. Perhaps you will in turn tell me of yours.

We are keeping Christmas now, since it is December 24th. The next twelve days will be busy ones, with parties each day until the last and largest one on Twelfth Night. Much of it is silliness, with men dressing as women and women as men. There is also gambling, which some abhor, but I believe life must offer good times to balance the bad ones we cannot avoid.

I have ordered the cooks to spare no expense in feeding the household, so we shall dine on meats of all kinds, marchpanes, pies, custards, frumenty, plum porridge, and much else. I look forward to the Christmas pie of neat's tongue, eggs, sugar, lemon, orange peel, and spices. As I told you when last we met, sugar is a wonderful food, and very healthful, too, I'm told.

Several pageants are planned for the holidays, and I believe tonight's is the tale of St. George and the Dragon. I am at Greenwich Palace, which, though small, is my favorite place for the celebration. It is decorated with holly, ivy, box, yew, bay, laurel, holm, and oak branches, any that can be found that are still green. The Yule log has been chosen, and tonight the men will go forth, cut it, and drag it to the hall fireplace. A bit of last year's log has been preserved to light this year's version, and if it burns all night long, that will signal prosperity for our land in the coming year.

HollyIt was suggested to me that this year we might set an image of the Christ child on the chapel altar. I see nothing wrong with that, for we must be reminded that despite all the banquets and dancing, this is a time for reflecting on God's gifts to us all.

Write me if you can, Old Friend, and tell me news of your family and your activities at Christmastide.

Signature of Queen Elizabeth I
Her Royal Highness Elizabeth
 (though you, of course, may call me "Highness")


So now is come our joyful'st feast,
Let every man be jolly.
Each room with ivy leaves is drest,
And every post with holly.
       Though some churls at our mirth repine,
        Round your foreheads garlands twine,
        Drown sorrow in a cup of wine,
And let us all be merry.
            George Wither (1588-1667)

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