Medieval Time of Day - Life in Medieval DaysIn modern times we don't care much if it's day or night, if it's light or dark. We just flick a switch and we get light. If you've seen Castaway with Tom Hanks, you probably remember the scene where he returns to humanity and he's obsessed with the light switch. On, off. On, off. It seems so simple, but for a length of time he was trapped by the sun-moon cycles. When the sun went down, he was stuck.
In medieval times, candles were fairly expensive. One did not just hang out by a candle all night long to chat. The people aimed to wake up at first light to maximize every moment they could get with it. They went to bed once it got dark. After all, your alternative was to stumble around in a dark room running into things.
In the winter this might mean the day was fairly short. In the summer, though, the sun came up before 5am and it went down after 9pm. So that's a substantial amount of room to work with.
In one of my medieval stories, Lady in Red, I have a returning wealthy man treating his village to an evening party. He can afford the candles that are around the room as a show of his wealth. He holds it on July 14th, a full moon, so there is ample sunlight for the day and also a bright moon to guide the guests home. It's something a host would need to think about. He couldn't just send guests home in the pitch dark.
From "Food in Medieval Times" by Melitta Weiss Adamson - "If breakfast and little in-between meals drew the ire of the moralists, how much more so the late meal after supper known as the reresoper. It was condemned unanimously by the church and heads of households as an unnecessary extravagance and an indulgence. Ranging from a full meal to just some snacks accompanied by lots of alcoholic drink, the reresoper was usually enjoyed by a few friends in a private room rather than the whole household in the hall, as was proper. Loud laughter, crude jokes, gambling, and flirting were some of the vices associated with this meal, which often dragged on until after midnight and resulted in many a hangover the following day."
Taverns were also popular with the late-night crowd. From Life in a Medieval Village by Frances and Joseph Gies: "In 1276 in Elstow, Osbert le Wuayl, son of William Cristmasse, coming home at about midnight 'Drunk and disgustingly over-fed,' after an evening in Bedford, fell and struck his head fatally on a stone 'breaking the whole of his head.' "
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