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Gentlefolk All, Survive Your Holidays With Help From Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer died in 1400 — but somehow, he's on Twitter now — and he's here to answer your holiday questions!
The Art Archive/iStockphoto
Geoffrey Chaucer died in 1400 — but somehow, he's on Twitter now — and he's here to answer your holiday questions!

Editor's Note: Who better to advise you on surviving the stresses and strains of a modern Christmas than a 14th-century English poet? We gleefully present holiday advice from the Internet's own Chaucer Doth Tweet. Warning: Middle English ahead!

Gentil folke, yt ys wyse and profitable to seeke advyce and counsel yn all thinges. Ich am Geoffrey Chaucer, deputy forester of North Petherton and amateur poet, and Ich am heere to helpe yow wyth advyce and counsel regarding the seasoun of holidayes.

For lo, though thys be a blisful seasoun, yet yn thys seasoun so manye of us straye from the high road of good organizatioun down to the dangerous trail of takeout food, the perilous gravely path of badde travel choyces, and the eternally dismal slough of unnecessary software updates.

Thus, from the whirlinge and evir-growinge tempest of voyces and trouthe and falshood and argumentes and sweetnesse and captioned otter pictures – that ys, from Twytter – NPR dyd solicit your questions, and heere, gentil folk, Ich do hope to wryte sum answeres that maye helpe while the holidaye tunes do playe.

A wyse question. Thogh yt kan be wondirful to hoost familye and friendes, yet sumtymes circumstances (plumbing issue, lost falcon, territorial dispute wyth local baron) do prevent us from warmly welcominge our loved ones. Right fayre yt wolde be indeed yf those beloved relatives might go on pilgrimage to seek straunge strondes ynstead of staying wyth us and issuing ultimatums about the masshid potatoes! Yet how to saye yt?

Let us take a lesson from My Lord Kyng Richard II: pageantrye. Arryve at the house of your woulde-be guests wyth your retinue mounted on fyne palfreyes and wearinge garments of cloth of gold. Bear a falcon upon thy hand yn a lordy fashion.

To the sound of silver trumpets, knokke thrice on the doore. When thy distant relaciouns emerge, present them publiquely wyth the gifte of a fullye-funded pilgrimage to the locacioun of their choyce.

Al people of the surrounding village shall looke on, and ful wel churlisshe yt wolde be of thy folke to refuse thys gift. Thogh thou shalt paye the expense, yet thy guests shal nowe spare thy hous. Thei shal travel many distant wayes and leave thee to thyne owene sweet businesse and maybe thou kanst get a chaunce to finisshe reading Piers Plowman.

Ich recommend that thou use the following quiz from the Red Booke of Gift-Givinge Algorithms. Thys quiz was forged on the island of Avalon manye centuryes ago through the secret lore of alchemye and the most hidden and sorcerous art of marketinge. Aske thy mother for answeres to these questiones, and thou kanst learn what manner of gifte shall trewely please her.


1. Which element dost thou prefer: fyre, air, earth, watir?

2. Ovid or Virgil? The Beatles or the The Stones? Seinfelde or Friendes?

3. Which humour doth dominate thy disposicioun: yellow bile, black bile, blood, phlegm?

4. What type of rabbit ys best?

Once thou dost see her answeres, thou shalt knowe what giftes she shal love. No moore "wrong wrong wrong." Yf she saye she doth prefer the element of fyre and smaller rabbits, then thou art looking at some nyce wyne glasses such as from the catalog of Guillaumes-Sonoma. Yf she saye that she doth lyke Ovid and hath much yellow bile, then probablye a collecioun of classique Italian filme on DVD. And so forth. How wyse were the marketinge folk of Avalon yn ancient dayes!

Ther ys no need to fret ovir thys decisioun, for, lo: what ys real and what ys artificial? The tree that doth growe yn the farme of trees ys ytself shaped by the human artifice of the plantinge and growinge. The plastique tree that shineth wyth tinsel and fiber optiques eke ys shaped accordinge to the patternes of the trees of the oldest forestes of the world.

What ys a real tree but matter shaped by artifice? And what ys an artificial tree but artifice given material form? Realitye and artifice are but changelings of each othir, and kan swicche places, as the great booke of the Rabbit of Velveteen doth teache us. What doth mattir ys love. And what doth mattir ys joye. For yt ys love that doth give realitye to our moost cherisshed ideas, lyke Batman.

So obtain for thyself the tree that doth make thee the moost happye. Yet be sure that the tree kan nat be taken down too easilye by cattes, for cattes are alwayes the enemyes of holidaye trees and thei seek to topple them wyth their claws and mischief.

Maye thys seasoun bringe yow alle greate joye and happiness, and may these litel bittes of advyce be useful unto yow, good readers, and to your cattes.

Ich remayne

Your humble servaunte

Geoffrey Chaucer

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