Festivals and holidays were a major part of the Elizabethan lifestyle. Events held during this period were typically associated with the church and more often than not, villagers were required by law to attend. These customs and traditions became a way of life for individuals living during the Elizabethan era. Interestingly, some of the traditions are similar to holiday customs celebrated throughout the world today.
People of the Elizabethan period celebrated Easter in March. Easter was used to celebrate the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, along with the celebration of light and warmth for the spring season. On Easter, people often attended plays depicting Christ's resurrection. Those living in the Elizabethan era celebrated April Fool's Day on April 1. On this day, rules were nonexistent and jokers and jesters took to the streets to wreak havoc, much like April Fool's Day is celebrated in the United States today with pranks.
May Day was a festival where individuals chose a "queen" of the month. Those living in the Elizabethan era would celebrate with music and dancing around the "maypole," a long pole decorated with ribbons and flowers. On the day of the summer solstice in June, villagers would attend the "Festival of Fire." Entertainment included depictions of legends including St. George, a famous dragon fighter, and the dragon itself. Bones were often tossed into a burning pit, creating the term "bonfire." July 15th was Swithin's Day, which celebrated St. Swithin, a legendary bishop. According to legend, St. Swithin's remains were tampered with, which caused rain for 40 days. Villagers often used this day to predict weather outcomes for the next 40 days.
In August, villagers celebrated "Lammas Day," also known as Lammastide, which was the first wheat harvest of the year. The event was celebrated with a modest festival and the village decorated with garland. As with today's celebration of Halloween, bobbing for apples was a favorite activity. September 29th was considered "Michaelmas" for villagers in the Elizabethan period. St. Michael the Archangel, a famous dragon fighter, was celebrated with food such as goose or chicken. "The Day of the Dead" was celebrated on Oct. 31. Today, we refer to this holiday as Halloween. Revels were held and bonfires were lit.
Christmas was celebrated in the Elizabethan era. Great feasts were held in honor of Christ's birth. The holiday lasted for 12 days in honor of the 12 apostles and December as the 12th month of the year. In February, villagers of the Elizabethan period celebrated Valentine's Day in honor of St. Valentine, to profess their love and affection for those they cared about. Symbolism included hearts, Cupid, flowers and confectionery.