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Christmas in Great Nortend

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A nativity scene is often erected for Christmastide.

Christmas in Great Nortend is a widely celebrated holiday, as in most Christian countries. As one of the great high festivals observed by the Church of Nortend, it commands a place in the religious life of the nation second only to Easter. As such, Christmas is normally celebrated focussing on religious tradition, commemorating the actual birthday of Jesus Christ, although more secular customs have always been a staple of the season since its inception in Great Nortend with the arrival and spread of Christianity in the 8th century.

Christmas is celebrated on December 25th, but is followed by various festivals until Epiphany on January 6th, making the „Twelve Days of Christmas”. Christmas is preceded by the six weeks of Advent which is characterised by penance and fasting. Hence, when the Christmas season, called Christmastide, arrives, it is all the more spectacularly marked by festivities, feasting, shopping and general merriments. Christmas is also the beginning of the Christmas term, one of the four quarterly terms of the civil year which begins on Michaelmas, September 29th, in the Michaelmas term.


Hartshorn biscuits are traditionally baked during Advent and for other festivals.

Advent is celebrated over six weeks in Great Nortend, according to the rite of the Church of Nortend. It begins on the Sunday after Martinmas, celebrated on November 11th. This Sunday is known as Ad te levavi,[1] from the words of the Office anthem at the mass.

During Advent, the coming festivities are anticipated by making preparations for Christmas. The house is cleaned and food prepared, including Christmas puddings, cakes and fruit mincemeat which are made early in Advent to mature. Hartshorn biscuits, marzipan, gingerbread and peppercake, are popular as well, especially made into shapes using wooden moulds, often intricately carved and handed down through generations. Throughout Advent, Advent calendars and Advent candlesticks are put up and used to mark off the days and weeks of Advent by opening windors or doors in the calendar, or by lighting successive candles each Saturday evening. Otherwise, no special decorations are put up during Advent.

Advent is also a fasten tide throughout its six weeks according to the Church of Nortend, excepting festivals and Sundays. Therefore, the main meal of the day must not include flesh meat, although strict abstinence from meat or meat products is never required by the Church of Nortend. However, unlike Lent, Advent is marked by a succession of festivals which break the fast, which creates a much less penitential and more joyful season of hope, than Lent. The most consecutive days of fasting before O Sapientia is four, between St. Hugh’s Day and St. Cecilia’s Day, from the 18th to the 21st of November inclusive, and between the Conception of Mary and St. Lucy’s Day, from the 9th to the 12th inclusive.

On St. Nicholas’s Day, December 6th, children leave out leather shoes stuffed with hay and an apple on the doorstep of their house. The next morning, they will have been emptied in exchange for a number of silver threepences. Young boys are given gifts on this day, and often one will be chosen to act as a „boy bishop” for the day. St. Lucy’s Day, December 13th, is the comparable day for girls who receive gifts and choose one to be „Lady Lucy” who wears a garland with candles.

The Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after St. Lucy’s Day on December 13th are the Advent ember days. O Sapientia begins on December 16th, marked by the singing of the Great Anthems every night at Vespers until Christmas Eve. St. Thomas’s Day, originally and anciently celebrated on December 21st, was moved to December 29th to replace the festival of St. Thomas a Becket after the Small Schism, owing to the latter martyr’s infamous support for the Papacy over the Crown. This means „Wisdomtide” consists of more a more solemn period of fasting lacking any festivals at all other than Sundays, until Christmas Day.


Christmas observance is nigh-universal in Great Nortend as one of the two great high festivals of the year. It is a full holiday, along with St. Stephen’s Day, St. John’s Day, Holy Innocents’ Day, St. Thomas’s Day, St. Silvester’s Day and Epiphany Day. The Christmas story of the Annunciation of Gabriel to Mary, the Birth in the Manger, the Annunciation to the Shepherds, the Worship of the Shepherds and the Worship of the Magi is well known and often retold in nativity plays.

Christmas Even

A typical Christmas Even dinner of poached carp, potatoes and vegetables.

Christmas Even falls on December 24th. Vespers thereof marks the end of Advent as first Vespers of Christmas Day with the Anthem Dum ortus fuerit with the festive chiming of church bells ringing out across the countryside. First Vespers of Christmas is a well attended service.

Nonetheless, abstinence from flesh meat is still enjoined until midnight, and therefore the Christmas Even supper includes fish prominently, especially carp, which is roasted or poached according to local tradition. Other traditional fare includes horseradish soup, boiled potatoes, spinach, cabbage and almond rice pudding. After dinner, families open Christmas cards, and decorate the Christmas tree and house with baubles, ornaments and festal decorations in anticipation for the next day of festivities. Gifts are given on Christmas Eve, whilst traditional Nortish Christmas carols are sung into the night.

Christmas Day

Christmas Day is naturally the day of greatest festivities and religious observance, with three services of Mattins, Mass and Vespers. Christmas Mattins, or Oughtensong, begins in the early morning, around 7, in darkness before dawn breaks. A bellman is often employed to ring up the people in the early morning, to wake them for Mattins.

After Mattins, people return home for a light mass collation of left-overs from Christmas Even dinner, and to begin preparing the Christmas dinner. In the late morning, after Tierce is sung, there is a Procession before the Christmas Mass Puer natus est. The procession begins in the church quire, and walks through the church and without singing various texts and anthems, including the well-known anthem, Hodie Christus natus est. At the Christmas Mass, members of the public are invited to take communion, being one of the four times in a year at the which communion is publicly administered to the people.

After mass, families return home for Christmas dinner. The traditional Christmas dinner includes up to seven courses beginning with a soup, followed by smoked fish, a cold ham, roast pork or beef, a roast goose, roast vegetables, plum pudding and fruit with biscuits and cakes. Marzipan tarts are very popular. This is followed by gift-giving between friends and family, and games until Vesperstime, when the remaining lively members of the household attend church again for Christmas Vespers. Afterwards, there is usually a supper of left-overs, followed by further festivities of singing, dancing and games.


The twelve days after Christmas until Epiphany form Christmastide. The four days after Christmas are especially important, consisting of St. Stephen’s Day, St. John’s Day, Holy Innocents’ Day and St. Thomas’s Day. St. Stephen’s Day is similarly marked with religious services, although they are not usually as well attended as Christmas services. There is a strong association with horses, and a St. Stephen’s Ride is common, as a form of ceremonial hunt after Mattins. Afterwards, the riders usually attend mass. St. John’s Day is mainly marked by the blessing of wine and cider. Holy Innocents’ Day, or Childermas, is marked with the whipping of boys to remind them of the murder of the Holy Innocents by Herod the King. Afterwards, however, the boys reverse roles, with the senior boys leading the services of Mattins and Vespers. St. Thomas’s Day, originally on December 21st but moved to December 29th to replace the festival of Thomas a Becket, is marked by a variety of folk customs originally practised on “Old St. Thomas Day”, including various forms of harmless divination, and the blessing of fields in readiness for the new agricultural year.


See also


  1. In English, „Unto thee lift I up [my soul]”.