Vikings held feasts for a variety of reasons including seasonal feasts such as Winter Nights and Jul, harvest festivals such as Mabon, religious rituals and for more personal reasons such as a wedding or a celebration of a successful raiding voyage. Religion among the Norsemen wasn’t organized or hierarchal as in the Christian world; most religious observations were family oriented or communal.
At year-turnings and religious observations, horses or other animals might be sacrificed, its blood sprinkled on the altar and the meat later eaten at the feast. Vikings valued their horses; a sacrifice of one showed a deep allegiance to the gods.
A Viking feast depended on the wealth of the host, but all Vikings ate well at feast time. They certainly ate more and a better variety of food than the daily meal afforded. Roasted and boiled meats, rich stews, platters of buttered root vegetables, sharp, welcome greens and sweet fruits and nuts meant a rich feast and full bellies. Large amounts of alcohol were eagerly consumed—ale and mead for all with heady fruit wines for wealthy Vikings.
While major feasts might last 12 days, minor feasts and celebrations would last a few. The winter solstice brought Jul, from December 20 to 31st, from which we draw some of our Christmas traditions; the spring equinox brought Ostara, a renewal festival, welcoming fertility back to the land. The summer solstice brought the midsummer festival, a time when most foreign trade took place and Vikings went off on fishing and raiding expeditions. August and September brought harvest celebrations at the time when most foods were at their peak to eat and preserve for winter. Most weddings took place in autumn.
Families, communities and later towns would gather for these festivals, setting out long trestle tables with benches to accommodate guests. Pork, oxen, horsemeat, poultry, beef and a huge variety of fish were served along with platters of boiled or roasted vegetables. People ate fresh baked breads, butter, cheeses and sweet desserts and nuts. Vats of mead, ale and wine were drank in honor of the gods, local chiefs, warlords, successful raiders and newlyweds.
Skalds, singers and poets, would recite sagas and poems of the long history of the Viking people. Musicians would get people dancing and everyone would eat and drink too much. Games of skill, wrestling and rough ball games kept the warriors and young boys active. Everyone wore their finest clothes and jewelry. Since feasts went on for days, they must have been an exhausting but wonderful time, full of the good things that only came at certain times of the year.
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