What Is a Feast?
First of all, it’s a banquet filled with good food, drink, entertainment and merriment in a Medieval style It is also a chance to get together with other SCA folks and enjoy their company.. Feasts can have many different themes, ranging from a simple household “pot luck” to a formal ceremony such as Coronation. As the name implies, Feasts are “eating” celebrations.
How are Feasts Set Up?
Generally Feasts take place in a hall with tables set up around a central entertainment area. There is a head table, behind which our Royalty (if any are present) and the hosts have their seats. Tables for the populace are usually set upon both sides of the hall. These tables may be in long rows, or there may be round tables, each seating five to seven guests.
Each guest is expected to bring his/her own place setting (more below on this subject). Most Feasts are “catered” in that members of the hosting group do all of the cooking, serving, and clean-up (these events are often fund raisers” for a local Canton, Shire, or Barony).
The hall will often be decorated with hanging banners showing the heraldry/devices of the hosting group(s) and sometimes the those of the guests .
What kind of food is served at Feasts?
Feasts are set up to replicate a “Medieval” Feast, there will be a lot of effort made to present authentic cuisine and are usually served in a series of courses. This can vary from a simple feast with two or three courses and going up to seven (maybe more?).
The Feast is something of an “eating adventure” since the names of the various courses will give little if any indication of the contents! Depending upon the creativity of the cooks, the first course will often consist of appetizers, and subsequent courses will consist of various meats and vegetables. The final courses will probably be some form of sweets, often featuring interesting spices and tastes.
A Feast is an excellent opportunity to enjoy unusual food. Generally, the hosts will provide some form of non-alcoholic beverage, such as homemade lemonade or iced teas.
If the event is advertised as being “wet” or “damp,” it is permissible for a guest to bring a bottle or two of wine and/or beer. Sometimes there will be offers between guests to share homemade mead or beer, but everyone certainly will understand if you choose not to participate. Do not expect the hosting group to provide alcoholic drinks.
What should I bring to a Feast?
First of all, you will need to bring your own place setting. Since we attempt to recreate the feel and look of a Medieval hall, the items in your place setting should be those that were in use in Medieval times.
A basic place setting will have a wooden or pewter plate, a wooden or pewter bowl, some form of drinking utensil (such as a tankard or goblet), and some utensils (knife, fork and spoon) with which to eat. Lets discuss each of these. Wooden plates and bowls can be often found in Thrift” stores or at events where Merchants offer their wares.
When you buy, select items that will present a period look (and which are durable and easy to clean). Pewter plates and bowls are much more expensive, but are very durable (as well as attractive). A drinking utensil should be of wood or metal, not glass (unless your persona is that of a wealthy person). For a lord, especially a fighter, this should generally be a metal Tankard or a Drinking Horn (for Barbarians and Vikings) of reasonable size; for the ladies, a metal Goblet is the usual style. Period eating utensils included fingers and belt knives, but it is far easier to eat soup with a spoon.
Throwing food or being ill-mannered is not period. You can eat with your fingers and still be graceful and refined. Nobody will say anything if you bring modern utensils, although most of us try hard to obtain utensils that have a more period look.
Finally, you should plan to bring a table cloth, cloth napkins, and some light. For atmosphere, the hall’s electrical lighting may be turned off, and the Feast will be conducted by candle light (as long as the site permits candles in their hall). This lends a real atmosphere of the Medieval period.
You should plan to bring one or two candle sticks for your own place setting. I would suggest that you purchase “dripless” candles they are neater to use. Just remember to check with the autocrat of the event to see of candles will be permitted.
What should I Expect?
Most Feasts are somewhat structured. The head table will be seated before serving begins. Sometimes breads and fruits will be on the table for you to eat while waiting for the first course. Generally, once the Feast (eating) starts, each Course will be introduced and announced. Food will be offered to Royalty or Hosts first, then to any member of the Peerage present. Once the Head Table has been served, the food will be brought to the tables by the servers, who should be able to provide information on what you will be eating.
Just a reminder, servers should be treated with courtesy. Rare feasts will have “churls” as servers, but more often than not, the one dishing up your soup may be some kind of Royalty. Once the meal is underway, you can expect that a number of toasts will be made, first to the visiting Royalty, then to the Hosting Group (be it a Barony, a Shire, or just an extended Household such as the “Barbarian Freehold”). There is a protocol to this. The formal toasts are given first and the head table is responsible for them. Wait for these toasts to be completed before presenting any of your own toasts.
Entertainment may be offered. You may expect wandering minstrels to walk around the room, offering period music and song. During the course of the Feast, some of the guests may rise, walk to the head table to greet the hosts, and sometimes offer music to make the event more enjoyable for everyone.
Sometimes, there will be “table contests”. These can take the form of competitions for the most attractive place setting, or competitions to build miniature castles, fortifications, or heraldic devices (out of butter and sugar cubes Sometimes the evening will close with Period Dancing, and what is termed a “Bardic Circle” with more song and instrumental music.