The rhythm of the Elizabethan's life was the rhythm of the seasons. The turning of the seasons governed how he worked and how and when he played.
The Elizabethan did not concern himself much with the exact date. He looked upon the year as a series of seasons, and his signposts were the feast days. If he talked about something that happened on July 27th, he would say it occurred "two days past Lammastide".
To further muddle things, the English used the old Julian calendar long after the rest of Western Europe went over to the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Due to the Papal origin of the new calendar, it was regarded with suspicion by the Protestant English.
The Old Julian Calendar was ten days behind the Gregorian in 1582, and to most reckonings, New Year's day was not on January first, but on March 25th. In the Middle Ages, all of these feast days were excuses for a day off, Popish ceremonies, and general idleness. The thrifty Protestants, of course, disapproved, and limited the observance of many of the feast days. They remained on the calendar, but people were enjoined not to stop working. Some of these "banned" feast days are included below, and are marked with an asterisk *.
Sunday of course, remained inviolate, and was supposed to be a day of prayer and reflection. For most however, it was a chance to go to plays, bear-batings and markets, though such Sabbath breaking was, of course, frowned upon. The strictly religious in Elizabethan England had much cause to frown.
Movable Feasts (All related to Easter)
The Sunday before Ash Wednesday
Shrovetide is a time when all of the meats forbidden during Lent are eaten
The Monday before Ash Wednesday
The day before Ash Wednesday
46 days before Easter -- the beginning of Lent Lent is a time of fasting and prayer. It is forbidden to eat red meat during Lent. In addition to breads and greens, only fish, milk, butter and eggs are allowed.
The Sunday before Easter
The commemoration of Christ's entry into Jerusalem. "English Palms" (Pussy willows) are carried in processions and crosses made of these "palms" are treasured to guard the house from evil throughout the year.
The Friday before Easter
The commemoration of the Crucifixion
According to the Book of Common Prayer, Easter is: "always the first Sunday after the first Full Moon which happens next after the One and Twentieth day of March (the Spring Equinox) and if the Full Moon happens upon a Sunday, Easter Day is the Sunday after" This is the holiest day of the year, and commemorates the resurrection. It is also a "quartering day" upon which quarterly wages or rents are paid. It is the end of Lent.
Also called Rogation or Holy Thursday. Falls forty days after Easter.
A time for prayers for the year's crops and a time for "beating the bounds" to teach the young the boundaries of the Parish
Also called Pentecost. 50 days after Easter.
Commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. A popular time for "Church Ales" when ale is sold to benefit the Church.
8 weeks after Easter
Immovable Feasts and Other Important Dates
Sewing and harrowing continues until Easter
New Year's Day and the Annunciation of the Virgin. Also called "Lady Day"
St. George's Day
The Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist
The beginning of Summer. A time of celebrations, processions, May Poles, Morris Dances, and lewd behavior on the part of the young. A celebration of fertility.
St. Elmo's day
Sheep are washed and sheared
Nativity of St. John the Baptist or Midsummer Day
A mystical and dangerous time. St. John's fires are lit to keep away evil. This is a quartering day for those who pay quarterly rents or wages.
The Feast of Sts Peter and Paul
A time for "rushbearings", when rushes or new mown hay are born in processions and strewn about the local churches as a floor covering.
Visitation of the Virgin
St. Swithin's Day
St. Mary Magdalenâ€™s Day
St. Christopher's Day or Lammastide*
Assumption of the Virgin
St. Bartholomew's Day
Harvest Home (date varies)
The completion of the harvest . A time for village festivals
Beasts are set out to graze on the harvested fields
St. Michael and All Angels or Michalmas
This is the beginning of a new accounting year and the end of the old. Not coincidentally, it is also the end of the old agricultural year and the beginning of the new. It is the time when the profits from the harvest are realized, when annual rents can be collected and bills paid. It is also a "quartering day" for those on a quarterly rent or wage system. It is, to this day, often the end of the "fiscal year".
St.s Crispin & Crispinian*
Remembered primarily as the anniversary of the battle of Agincourt.
All Saints or All Hallows
Stored fruits and grains are blessed and dead are remembered.
The Feast of St. Martin or Martinmas*
The festival of Winter's beginning.
Beasts are slaughtered for the Winter
Queen Elizabeth's Accession Day
Celebrated with bonfires and bellringing. It was celebrated well past the date of her death, often with more enthusiasm than holidays dedicated to the reigning monarchs.
The Feast of St. Andrew*
Fourth Sunday before Christmas
The beginning of the Christmas season.
Time for a bit of spiritual reflection prior to the commencement of the 12 days of partying that is Christmas. It is also a quartering day for rent and wages.
St. Stephen's Day
The first day of ChristmasË˜
St. John's Day
The second day of Christmas
Holy Innocents' Day or Childermas
The third day of Christmas
St. Thomas of Canterbury Day
The fourth day of Christmas
The Feast of the Circumcision
The seventh day of Christmas
Twelfth Night or Epiphany
The end of Christmas Ë˜
The Feast of St. Hilary*
Traditionally the coldest day of the year. Marriages once again permitted after the Advent and Christmas ban.
The Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul*
Purification of the Virgin or Candlemas
Lights and candles are blessed in Churches, and candlelight processions are held. After candlemas, the fields are tilled for spring planting and the animals are no longer allowed to graze in the fields.
The Feast of St. Mathias the Apostle
Lambing (lambs are born around this time)
The first day of Spring