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Advent

From the thirteeth century the four-week period before Christmas was celebrated as Advent. Since it led up to the day of Christ's birth and the beginning of Christianity, it was considered the beginning of the Church year also.

The autumn had long been a time for feasting because of the harvest and the slaughtering of those animals which it would not be possible to feed over the winter. It would be the last chance to enjoy such abundance before the hardships of the winter months.

The fourth century saw the beginning of the holidays of All Saints' and All Souls', followed on November 11 by the feast of St. Martin, or Martinmas. After that, the next four weeks were to be ones of preparation, penance and fasting similar to those of Lent.

The Advent fast, though, was not as severe as the Lenten one and abstinance was required only three days a week. Items to be excluded from the diet included meat, cheese and fat as well as wine, ale and honey-beer. The limited diet was occasionally supplemented by fish, often poached, from local rivers and streams.

The faithful were also expected to abstain from love making, weddings, games and unnecessary travel.