The Traditional Yule Ceremonies of the Barony Beyond the Mountain
For many years now, the Barony Beyond the Mountain has celebrated certain traditions as part of our Yule feast. We are pleased and honored to bring them to this joint Yule with our cousins of Bergental, and to share them with you today. Please take a moment to read through the descriptions, as there are certain ceremonial responses and actions required from our guests.
First, PLEASE DO NOT LIGHT YOUR CANDLES. The provision of light for the tables is part of the observances.
At the beginning of the feast before the food is served, First Foot, the embodiment of the spirit of the season will enter the hall and leap over the yule log which will be set before High Table. After taking a flame from the yule log, First Foot will ask the populace “Would you have the spirit of the season enter this hall?” The proper response is “Aye!” First Foot will light the candles at High Table, and will then proceed throughout the hall to light a candle for each table (there is a thin spill candle on each table for this purpose.) It is traditional to offer First Foot a coin for luck. Their Excellencies of Beyond the Mountain and Bergental have provided coins on each table as a gift to our guests.
A pitcher of warm water will be presented to High Table, that Their Majesties and Their Excellencies may refresh their hands prior to presentation of the feast.
Salt will be formally presented to the High Table. If Their Excellencies in consultation with Their exchequers have determined that Their lands have prospered in the prior year, salt will also be provided to the populace to season their meals.
The pantler will present a specially baked loaf of bread to High Table, and slice and serve it to Their Majesties and Their Excellencies.
The butler will present drink to the High Table. To ensure the quality of the bottle, he will open it and sample the contents to confirm its worth.
The toasts are offered during the meal as is traditional in the Kingdom. However, in honor of the holiday season, the customary response of “vivant” is replaced by “wassail!”
During the feast, the boar’s head will be processed through the hall while the “Boar’s Head Carol” is sung. If you care to, please join in the chorus “Caput apri defero, Reddens laudes domino” (“The boar’s head I offer, Giving praises to the Lord.”) Once High Table has been served, the boar’s head will be shared with the populace.
Also during the feast, there will be a presentation of twelve sterling silver rings, hidden in cookies. Should you find one (chew carefully,) it represents luck for the coming year.
Thank you for joining us today to celebrate the holiday season.
A Little History
Where on Earth Did They GET This Stuff?
The Barony Beyond the Mountain has celebrated our Yule feast with some variation of these traditions and ceremonies for over thirty years. But what do they mean? Where do they come from? All of them are grounded (if loosely) in some part of history, although over the years things have changed and shifted to suit the people and the event, and while the history is still visible through the cracks, it is now a tradition of our own.
First Foot: First Foot is a tradition of Scotland/Northern England, which says that the first person to set foot over the threshold of a home on New Year’s Day will bring good fortune for the coming year. In the original tradition, First Foot brings gifts.
Yule Log: Current tradition holds that the Yule log has its origins in the fire ceremonies of pre-Christian paganism that celebrate the return of the sun at the turn of the year. As most sites do not have a hearth suitable for the day-long burning of a log, the barony utilizes a symbolic representation.
Hand-washing: Medieval books of manners describe ritual hand-washing both before and after the meal. The water and towels were presented in order of the social standing of the guest, and it was an honor to thus serve a king or great noble.
Salt: Salt has been a valuable commodity throughout history. Universally valuable for both seasoning and food preservation, salt was mined, produced, transported, taxed, sold, and sometimes used as currency. Hence it was a demonstration of wealth on the medieval table, and in the great houses would be served in ornate salt cellars and nefs that were placed in front of the host or most honored guest.
Pantler: The pantler (from the Middle English pantelere) was the servant of a great house who was in charge of the bread and the pantry. When bread is baked in a wood fired oven, the upper portion is more desirable, as it will not be ashy or over-baked. Interestingly, the phrase “upper crust” does not appear to have been applied to *people* until the nineteenth century.
Butler: The butler (from the Anglo-Norman buteler, a variant of the Old Norman butelier and Old French botellier – all variants on boteille/bottle) was the servant of a great house who was in charge of the service and care of the household’s beverages, whether in barrels or bottles.
Wassail: from the Old English wæs hæl – “be you healthy,” and associated with the drinking tradition of wassailing in Southern England which is done to ensure a good cider apple harvest for the following year.
Boar’s Head: the hunting and serving of boar is ancient. The procession of the boar’s head to the singing of the “Boar’s Head Carol” originated at Queen’s College in Oxford England where it has continued to this day.
Rings: In England the Christmas cake/pudding sometimes had coins added as good luck touch pieces at least as far back as the 19th century. Even if no older than that, it is a charming tradition.