Leisure Activities of Medieval Peasants – Did Peasants have free time?

What do you imagine when thinking about a medieval peasant? Most of us will probably think of somebody who barely gets by even though he is working around the clock. And while the life of a medieval peasant was definitely a hard and busy one, peasants still had free time (although not nearly as much as a knight).

So in the following, I would like to talk about the times of the year when medieval peasants had free time and what they did for fun during their free time.

From March to November, medieval peasants only had limited free time in the evenings and at church festivals or social events (like weddings). They had more free time in the winter months when the work on the farms was limited. Medieval peasants spent their free time in the evenings with family or friends, while the free time at weddings or church festivals was spent playing games (like tag and blind man`s buff), singing, dancing, drinking, and feasting.

Let`s take a closer look and start by looking at when medieval peasants had free time.

Did medieval peasants have any free time?

The day of a medieval peasant was structured around the work that had to be done on the farm and the fields of the peasant`s landlord. Because of that, the labor-intensive time stretched from around March to November. During that time, free time was limited to the evenings or special events like church festivals or social events.

However, the leisure activities that medieval peasants could do in the evenings were limited not so much by the availability of artificial light but by the fact that a long day of working on a farm did not leave a lot of energy for fun activities in the evenings. 

So most medieval peasants probably spent their evenings with their families or friends from their village. These social gatherings were a good time for chatting and playing games. Here you can find out more about the games that both medieval peasants and knights liked to play.

That routine of spending the day on the fields and then spending the evenings with family and friends was usually only interrupted in case of a church festival or a large social event like a wedding or a baptism which was celebrated by the entire village. Then medieval peasants had an entire day without having to work (aside from daily tasks like taking care of the farm animals).

So during the main agricultural season between march and November medieval peasants only had free time in the evenings or in case of a church festival or in case of social events like weddings. Only in winter when the work on the farms was limited did medieval peasants have more free time.

But even though medieval peasants had some free time they did not have nearly as much free time as medieval knights or other members of the nobility.

And not only the amount of free time but also the activities that could be done during that free time varied. So while for example hunting was one of the most popular leisure activities of a medieval knight, peasants were strictly prohibited from it. Here you can find out more about the other activities that knights did in their free time and the reasons why hunting was so popular among knights.

But let`s now look at what medieval peasants did for fun.

What did medieval peasants do for fun in their free time?

As mentioned, the opportunities at which medieval peasants had free time were rare, especially in the time from march to November when the farms demanded the most attention. During that labor-intensive season, the leisure activities of medieval peasants were limited to social gatherings with friends and family after nightfall. There the peasants chatted, played games, or ate together.

By the way, these gatherings were not held outside in the moonlight. Unlike common opinion, even medieval peasants were able to afford ways to illuminate the night. Here you can find out more about the different ways people in the Middle Ages illuminated their homes and why torches were not used for that.

These social gatherings were probably also the most popular way to spend the winters when medieval peasants had much more free time than during the rest of the year.

But even during the labor-intensive season, there were certain occasions aside from the evenings when medieval peasants had free time. These occasions were church festivals and social events and the free time was spent quite similarly at both.

At church festivals and social events like weddings or baptisms peasants spent their free time dancing, singing, and partying. Feasts were also an important part of any church festival and any wedding.

Do you want to find out more about what medieval peasants ate at these feasts and how that differed from their daily diet? Then I would like to invite you to read my article here.

By the way. Weddings and baptisms were celebrated by the entire farmers’ village during the Middle Ages. But birthdays weren`t celebrated in the Middle Ages since the date of birth wasn`t seen as important. As a result most people did not know their birth date and that date was also not registered anywhere.

Ok, so whenever medieval peasants had a little more free time than just an evening after a long and hard day of work they spent their free time singing, dancing, playing games, and partying with their friends and families.

That in a way was quite similar to the way medieval knights spent their free time. Here you can find out more about the leisure activities of medieval knights.

Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.

Until next time

Yours truly

Luke Reitzer


Hans-Werner Goetz: Leben im Mittelalter (München 1986).