Festivals and Tournaments


The Elizabethan Era (1550-1650) was both creative and unique. This era went on in England as well as all over Europe during the Renaissance time period. William Shakespeare was a participant that made this time period well known to today’s world. Some of the popular activities of the Elizabethan Era were the many holidays that were celebrated with lively festivals. Tournaments, which were enjoyed by the wealthy and the lower classes, were a popular activity as well. Most festivals, in fact, were celebrated because of religious holidays, while others were celebrated for secular holidays. These holidays were for pure enjoyment. Tournaments were when knights fought each other on foot or horseback with lances and swords to try to win a glorious victory. Part of the Elizabethan Era’s creativity and uniqueness came from the way people gathered together for socializing and entertainment, which was through festivals, specific holidays, and tournaments.

Elizabethan Festivals

The festivals, including holidays, during the Elizabethan Era came from many church holidays (Lace 69), as well as, ancient pagan festivals (Andrews 123). The Catholic Church linked Pagan holidays with religious feast days, naming some of the old festivals, for example, Saint Catherine’s Day and Saint Agnes’ Eve. There were more than seventy religious and secular holidays before the Roman Catholic Church was broken by King Henry VIII (Andrews 124). In fact, the people of England celebrated too many festivals, and it was thought that there needed to be more time to get business done (Andrews 124). The Protestants, who were in rule at the time, took away a lot of the traditional Saints’ days and other religious holidays (Singman 60). But even when they took many away there were still more than twenty-five annual feast days in England (Andrews 124).

Many people loved festivals during this era. They were used for a time of getting together for relaxation and celebration. Festivals usually contained a lot of drinking, feasting, dressing in costumes, and dancing (Andrews 124). Elizabethans would also forget about hard work and seriousness (Andrews 124). There would even be a local resident from each town or village called the "Lord of Misrule." He had a court of twenty friends and had to make sure there was a lot of "merrymaking" at festivals (Andrews 125). Festivals, like many celebrations, played an important role in the Elizabethan Era.

Elizabethan Holidays

There were many specific holidays that people came together to celebrate during this era. Out of them all, the most important holiday was Christmas (Andrews 124). Unlike the one day holiday that is celebrated today, December twenty-fifth, the people in England celebrated Christmas for two weeks. The Christmas season started on Christmas Eve and ended what was called the Twelfth Night or January fifth (Andrews 124-125). On New Years Day people gave and were given gifts (Andrews 125), which contrasts with today’s standards of gift giving and getting on Christmas Day. New Years Day was also when the Elizabethans celebrated The Circumcision of Christ (Singman 61).


Besides Christmas, Easter was another celebrated holiday. Forty days before Easter, Lent started. This was when Christians could not eat meat or rich food (Andrews 125). Since Easter ended on Lent, the people did a lot of feasting (Andrews 125).

Lastly, May Day was another one of the many holidays that the Elizabethans celebrated, which was celebrated on May 1st (Andrews 125). On the night before May Day, people would gather greenery from the woods to decorate their homes and then spend the night outside (Andrews 125). In the morning “an ancient pagan symbol of fertility” called the maypole was put up in the village (Andrews 125). It was painted and had beautiful streamers upon it (Andrews 125). While the Lord of Misrule and his court entertained, there was a lot of dancing and drinking around the beautiful maypole (Andrews 125). The May Queen, who was the most beautiful and popular young women would watch the festivities (Andrews 125).

Elizabethan Tournaments

Tournaments were just another example of people coming together for pure enjoyment. A tournament was “a medieval pageant when knights jousted each other on horseback” (Elgin 44) or while on foot. They used swords and lances to joust each other while in special areas called “lists” (Alchin). The tournament was developed during the twelfth century (Olsen 420) from France (Alchin). The church did not like tournaments because it was worried that Christians were killing other Christians. Unlike the church, Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth liked the jousting in tournaments because it controlled the young aristocracy’s energy (Elgin 44-45). Unfortunately, there were a lot of causalities and some deaths (Alchin). A great thing about tournaments was that they helped knights stay in good condition in case they were ever needed in war (Alchin).

There were three different types of tournaments. They included jousting, the melee, and fighting on foot (Alchin). In the joust, the knight took on each opponent three times until the knights were eliminated. This process took several days (Alchin). There was another one called the Passage of Arms Tournament. This was when a knight announces the he will go up against all the challengers at a certain place and time (Alchin). There was also the Melee a pied Tournament where knight teams fought each other on foot. Lastly, there was the Melee a cheval Tournament where knight teams fought against each other on horseback (Alchin). The tournament played a huge role in the Elizabethan Era as well.


The people in England of the Elizabethan Era had a very different way of life. The way of life can be seen through the festivals and holidays that were celebrated, along with tournaments that were used for entertainment. Most of the holidays were celebrated differently then they would be today. The entertainment back then differs from the entertainment of today too. Yet the Elizabethans and people of today are similar because people come together to socialize and be entertained. The Elizabethans unique way for this is through festivals, specific holidays, and tournaments.