Christmas at Westminster Abbey
As we approach this special time in the Christian calendar, we thought we would share some of the Christmas traditions at Westminster Abbey.
During the Abbey’s monastic period, before the dissolution of the monasteries, the monks would celebrate Christmas with a festal feast which would have consisted of Pike with cinnamon and ginger sauce. Other dishes that they would have enjoyed at this time included conger eel with vinegar dressing, salmon, venison, teal, snipe and even swan. The monks would give out gifts of meat and bread to the poor at Christmas, usually from the Almonry which is the entrance from Dean’s Yard.
Those that have been lucky enough to visit the Abbey recently will have seen the beautiful Christmas tree that is standing outside the Abbey on the North Green. The tree lighting ceremony took place on 9th December and the Christmas tree was blessed by the Dean of Westminster. Christmas trees are a newer addition within the history of Westminster Abbey, going back to 1937 when the sovereign started to donate a Christmas tree for inside the Abbey from the Sandringham estate. In recent years other trees have been donated by a commercial company each year, including the one that sits outside.
As you approach the nave altar in Westminster Abbey you will see beautiful crib scene displayed in front of it. The present crib figures were designed by the Revd. Christopher Hildyard, a former sacrist of the Abbey, and were carved in limewood in Germany and then coloured in England. The ox and the ass were carved from an old tie beam from the Abbey as the roof was being restored during this period. The figures were first displayed in the Christmas of 1966 in St George’s Chapel, on the right-hand side as you enter Westminster Abbey through the Great West Door. Since this time they have been displayed at the nave altar, in the north-west aisle of the nave, and again in St George’s Chapel before reaching their current home at the nave altar in 2010. It is a tradition for the shepherds to be placed in the scene for the Christmas period, and then the kings replace them at Epiphany.
If you would like to celebrate Christmas at Westminster Abbey and experience these lovely traditions then join us for our Christmas day services.