The calendar pages of medieval Books of Hours were embellished with illuminations depicting the traditional labors or activities associated with the month. Above, two folios showing the activities for December, from the Psalter and Hours of Bonne of Luxembourg, Duchess of Normandy. The Cloisters Collection, 1969. (69.86). (See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.) In the detail shown in the center, a man prepares to deal the death stroke to a boar; the detail on the right shows a man cutting firewood with an ax. (The cutting and gathering of firewood is a minor labor, sometimes shown as a late autumn or early winter activity.)
The traditional activities depicted in medieval Books of Hours do vary, depending on the century and the locale in which the works were produced. Here at The Cloisters, the labor of December is the production of the wreaths, arches, and garlands that deck the Museum from mid-December until early January, all of which are made by the Gardens staff and volunteers from plant stuffs associated with the medieval celebration of Christmastide. For more on the preparation and construction of the four arches that will be on view in the Main Hall from December 13 through January 3, see “Decking the Halls: The Arches” (December 2, 2008). For more on the holly, boxwood, and ivy used in their construction, see “The Holly and the Ivy” (December 18, 2008) and “Boxwood” (December 18, 2009).
For more on the slaughtering of pigs in November and December, see “The Death of the Boar” (December 4, 2009). For more on medieval calendar traditions, see “Works and Days: The Medieval Year” (Friday, January 9, 2009).