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Guide note: This feature was originally posted in December of 1997, and was updated in December of 2010.
If you're looking for that special gift for a medieval history buff -- or if you like medieval history and you want to share it with your friends -- perhaps this page can help. Below are a few gift ideas that can bring a little medieval charm to today's holiday season. Gift projects are reasonable in cost, and if you start soon you can have them finished by December 24th. Or, take a lesson from medieval times and give your gifts on Twelfth Night -- January 6th.
The Artistic Touch
Do you enjoy crafts-work? Are you good with a needle? Then perhaps you'd like to make a gift for that special someone.
Candle-making was an ability that many medieval men and women were likely to know. If you know how to make candles or would like to try your hand at this rewarding craft, you may wish to stick to beeswax (instead of paraffin, which wasn't used until the 19th century, or tallow, which is difficult to work with) and make hand-dipped candles in order to keep the project "medieval." Beeswax has a lovely fresh odor and does not require the addition of any scents, but it can be expensive.
Whether you are new to candle-making or a practiced hand, please be sure to take all safety precautions.
You may wish to create a medieval costume -- even if you don't belong to a reenactment group, it will look splendid at a masquerade or Renaissance fair. For a really authentic look, embroider the work using period embroidery techniques and period designs, or enhance it with hand-woven braids. If an entire costume isn't up your alley, you can use these techniques on something as simple as a cape or a scarf.
If you're practiced in the art of calligraphy, try inscribing a medieval or Renaissance poem (or a verse from an epic) on parchment-style paper (real parchment can be very expensive). Shakespeare is always a hit, particularly his sonnets.
Food, Glorious Food
Thinking of a special holiday dinner? Try some medieval recipes. And forget that fruitcake -- go with a few medieval desserts instead. Gingerbread Cake is a period Christmas food, and Shortbreads are not only period but easy to present in a canister or, for a more authentic package, in a basket.
If the recipient of your gift likes to cook as well, include the recipe -- hand calligraphed on parchment paper, rolled into a scroll and tied with a ribbon.
The Medieval Touch
Whatever gift you choose to give, you can add a little medieval charm with a hand-calligraphed gift-tag (try parchment-look paper) or by wrapping the gift in fabric instead of paper (which was not really a disposable product in the middle ages). Decorate with fabric ribbons, dried flowers, berries, or pine cones. A personalized, hand-calligraphed bookmark with a holiday message is a great accompaniment to a book.
Many of the customs we observe today began in the middle ages. For more about medieval Christmas, please see Medieval Christmas Traditions.