The 17th Century almanac for December – when ‘Glad Christmas comes, and every hearth makes room to give him welcome now, even want will dry its tears in mirth, and crown him with a holly bough’.
17th Century Life and Almanac for December
In the 17th Century, during December, farm labourers repaired walls, hedged, cut dikes and split wood. December was also a time for playing football or ‘camping’. Whole villages played against each other on fallow fields, on fine, frosty days. Indoors, it was a time for spinning wool and mending. Bees were fed a dish of water and honey. The dish was filled with sticks to let the bees climb in and out without drowning.
December was also the month the Newfoundland cod fleet returned to England and its West Country ports. This was a major industry, involving over 300 barques (4-5,00 seamen), bringing in valuable revenue and excise duty from exports of dried cod to Spain and the import of Spanish wool. It was first triangular trade. The fleet set sail again for Newfoundland each February and March.
By the mid 1630s, Barbary Corsair pirates took increasing numbers of ships and seamen as they approached home waters. This was one factor that drove Charles I to extend the Ship Money tax to all counties in England. The intention was that all should contribute to financing the navy – not just the coastal counties. This proposal was first put forward by a Cornish MP, William Noy, in 1634. It is an argument I have explored in The Keys of Hell and Death.
The Moon After Yule & Christmas
Farming and fishing were driven by the seasons, the weather and by the moon. We forget how important the moon was to planting and reaping, as well as to the tides. For those that take an interest, the year’s Old Moon, or Moon after Yule, will rise on the 12th and be full on the 27th of December. The Winter Solstice and longest night will occur on the 22nd. And then we should Wassail in the New Year and pray for the light to return.
Whether you celebrate with Cavalier excess, Puritanical restraint, plain old-fashioned cheer or not at all, I wish you joy.
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I will post more of the 17th Century Almanac and Early Modern year next month, in January, in the New Year. If you would like to receive an email notification of the next post, click the button to follow.
In the meantime, this website includes more posts and articles about life in 17th Century Britain, Europe and the Americas at Historical Notes and Maps. These include notes and pages on the impact of the Little Ice Age and The General Crisis of the 17th Century. They include articles on the English Revolution and Great Rebellion. They also include Pike and Shot Warfare and battles of the English Civil War.
You can also find more posts on Early Modern history, Living History and re-enactment at News & Events. You may also wish to read about the English Civil War history talks and battlefield walks I give.
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