Hauling a Yule log, 1832
|Also called||Yuletide, Yulefest, Yules, Jul, Juletid, Julfest, Jül, Jól, Joul, Joulu, Jõulud, Joelfeest, Géol, Feailley Geul, Midwinter, The Winter Solstice|
|Observed by||Northern Europeans and Various Anglosphereans|
|Type||Cultural, Pagan then Christian|
|Date||Around December 21. Various celebrations also occur on the Winter Solstice|
|Celebrations||Festivals, Burning Yule Logs, Feasting, Caroling, Being with Loved Ones.|
|Related to||Christmas, The Solstice,Quarter days, Wheel of the Year, Winter Festivals|
Yule or Yule-tide ("Yule-time") is a winter festival that was initially celebrated by the historical Germanic people as a pagan religious festival, though it was later absorbed into, and equated with, the Christian festival of Christmas. The festival was originally celebrated from late December to early January on a date determined by the lunar Germanic calendar. The festival was placed on December 25 when the Christian calendar (Julian calendar) was adopted. Scholars have connected the celebration to the Wild Hunt.
Terms with an etymological equivalent to "Yule" are still used in the Nordic Countries for the Christian Christmas, but also for other religious holidays of the season. In modern times this has gradually led to a more secular tradition under the same name as Christmas. Yule is also used to a lesser extent in English-speaking countries to refer to Christmas. Customs such as the Yule log, Yule goat, Yule boar, Yule singing, and others stem from Yule. In modern times, Yule is observed as a cultural festival and also with religious rites by some Christians and by some Neopagans.
Yule is the modern English representative of the Old English words ġeól or ġeóhol and ġeóla or ġeóli, with the former indicating "(the 12-day festival of) Yule" (later: "Christmastide") and the latter indicating "(the month of) Yule", whereby ǽrra ġeóla referred to the period before the Yule festival (December) and æftera ġeóla referred to the period after Yule (January). Both words are thought to be derived from Common Germanic *jeχʷla-, and are cognate to Gothic (fruma) jiuleis and Old Norse (Icelandic) jól (Danish, Swedish and Norwegian jul) as well as ýlir. The etymological pedigree of the word, however, remains uncertain, though numerous speculative attempts have been made to find Indo-European cognates outside the Germanic group.
Gothic and Old English
Yule is attested early in the history of the Germanic peoples; from the 4th century Gothic language it appears in the month name fruma jiuleis.
About AD 730, the English historian Bede wrote that the Anglo-Saxon calendar included the months geola or giuli corresponding with either modern December or December and January. He gave December 25 as the first day of the heathen year and wrote that the Anglo-Saxons celebrated all night long to honor the Germanic divine "mothers":
They began the year with December 25, the day some now celebrate as Christmas; and the very night to which we attach special sanctity they designated by the heathen term Mōdraniht, that is, the mothers' night — a name bestowed, I suspect, on account of the ceremonies they performed while watching this night through.
In chapter 55 of the Prose Edda book Skáldskaparmál, different names for the gods are given. One of the names provided is "Yule-beings." A work by the skald Eyvindr skáldaspillir that uses the term is then quoted, which reads:
Again we have produced Yule-being's feast [mead of poetry], our rulers' eulogy, like a bridge of masonry.
Ynglinga saga, the first book of Heimskringla, first mentions a Yule feast in 840. Saga of Hákon the Good credits King Haakon I of Norway with the Christianization of Norway, as well as rescheduling the date of Yule to coincide with Christian celebrations held at the time. The saga states that when Haakon arrived in Norway he was confirmed a Christian, but since the land was still altogether heathen and they retained their practices, Haakon hid his Christianity to receive the help of "great chieftains." In time, Haakon had a law passed that established that Yule celebrations were to take place at the same time as when the Christians held their celebrations, "and at that time everyone was to have ale for the celebration with a measure of grain, or else pay fines, and had to keep the holiday while the ale lasted."
Yule had previously been celebrated on midwinter night for three nights, according to the saga. Haakon planned that when he had solidly established himself and held power over the whole country, he would then "have the gospel preached." According to the saga, the result of this was that his popularity caused many to allow themselves to be baptized, and some people stopped making sacrifices. Haakon spent most of this time in Trondheim, Norway. When Haakon believed that he wielded enough power, he requested a bishop and other priests from England, and they came to Norway. Upon their arrival, "Haakon made it known that he would have the gospel preached in the whole country." The saga continues describing the reactions of various regional things as they differ the matter to one another.
A description of "heathen" Yule practices is provided (notes are Hollander's own):
It was ancient custom that when sacrifice was to be made, all farmers were to come to the heathen temple and bring along with them the food they needed while the feast lasted. At this feast all were to take part of the drinking of ale. Also all kinds of livestock were killed in connection with it, horses also; and all the blood from them was called hlaut [ sacrificial blood ], and hlautbolli, the vessel holding the blood; and hlautteinar, the sacrificial twigs [ aspergills ]. These were fashioned like sprinklers, and with them were to be smeared all over with blood the pedestals of the idols and also the walls of the temple within and without; and likewise the men present were to be sprinkled with blood. But the meat of the animals was to be boiled and served as food at the banquet. Fires were to be lighted in the middle of the temple floor, and kettles hung over them. The sacrificial beaker was to be borne around the fire, and he who made the feast and was chieftain, was to bless the beaker as well as all the sacrificial meat.
The narrative continues that toasts were to be drunk. The first toast was to be drunk to Odin "for victory and power to the king", the second to the gods Njörðr and Freyr "for good harvests and for peace", and thirdly a beaker was to be drunk to the king himself. In addition, toasts were drunk to the memory of departed kinsfolk. This toast was called "minni [memorial toast]".
The Svarfdæla saga records a story in which a berserker put off a duel until three days after Yule to honor the sanctity of the holiday. The Grettis Saga refers to Yule as a time of "greatest mirth and joyance among men." This saga is set soon after Iceland converted to Christianity and identifies Yule with Christmas: "No Christian man is wont to eat meat this day [Yule Eve], because that on the morrow is the first day of Yule," says she, "wherefore must men first fast today."
Midvinterblot. Painting by Carl Larsson in the Swedish National
museum's stairway (detail march 2008.
Yule was an indigenous midwinter (winter solstice) festival celebrated by the pagan Scandinavian and Germanic people people also called Jul, midvinterblot, Julblot, jólablót, and julofferfest. Yule was progressively absorbed into the Christian observations surrounding Christmas. Simek says that the Yule feast "had a pronounced religious character", and Simek cites section 7 of Gulaþingslög, where Yule is described as celebrated "for a fertile and peaceful season" and consists of a fertility sacrifice. Simek says that focus was not on the gods of the Vanir, but instead the god Odin, and he notes that one of Odin's many names is Jólnir (Old Norse "yule figure"). Simek says that Odin was associated with Yule, and that the tradition of the Wild Hunt undoubtedly contributed to the association of the two. According to Simek "it is uncertain whether the Germanic Yule feast still had a function in the cult of the dead and in the veneration of the ancestors, a function which the mid-winter sacrifice certainly held for the West European Stone and Bronze Ages." The traditions of the Yule log, Yule goat, Yule boar, Yule singing, and others stem from Yule customs, and Simek says these customs "indicate the significance of the feast in pre-Christian times."
Specific dating is problematic. In the 13th century, the Old Norse month name ýlir (attested once) refers to the period of time between 14 November and 13 December. The time of Yule falls within around the time of a month that corresponds with the end of the modern calendar year. Andy Orchard says that "in practice, it is difficult to specify the yule-tide period more accurately than at some point between about mid-November and the beginning of January." Rudolf Simek says that the Old Norse timing "offers no point of reference for the sacrificial feast" and that "the identification with the mid-winter time of sacrifice is most likely."
Scholar Andy Orchard and Rudolf Simek theorize a connection between Yule and the Wild Hunt. According to authors Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick, the Yule feast may have originated from the Roman winter festival of Saturnalia.
Main article: Christmas worldwide
Danes celebrate on December 24, which is called Juleaftensdag (literally, Yule Eve Day), or simply Jul. An elaborate dinner is eaten with the family in the evening, consisting of roast pork, roast duck or roast goose with plain potatoes,caramelized potatoes, red cabbage and gravy. For dessert is rice pudding with a cherry sauce, traditionally with an almond hidden inside. The lucky finder of this almond is entitled to a small gift. After the meal is complete, the family gather around the Juletræ to sing Christmas carols and dance hand in hand around the tree. Then the children often hand out the presents which are opened immediately. This is followed by candy, chips, various nuts, clementines, and sometimes a mulled and spiced wine with almonds and raisins called Gløgg is served hot in small cups. Following the main celebration of Jul or Juleaften on December 24, December 25 and December 26 are, respectively, celebrated as Første JuledagThe first day of/after Christmas and Anden Juledag'The second day of/after Christmas, both holidays, and are generally filled with relaxed familial socializing and the enjoying of leftovers from the Juleaften meal. Some Danish families also celebrate December 23 as Lillejuleaften (Little Christmas Eve). Traditions for this day might include decoration of the Juletræ, enjoying roast duck, and caroling. Throughout December it's a tradition to send a serialized "julekalender", directly translated Christmas calender, with one episode of a story each day for 24 days. It's such a big tradition, that every child knows that one of the two major television channels sends an episode at 6:00 pm, and the other send one at 8:00 pm, and then there's a "julekalender" -episode for teenagers and grown-ups at late night, that is more fun and satirical and/or violent.
Main article: Christmas
In the United Kingdom and other parts of the Anglophone world, the modern Yule or Yuletide is commonly associated with Christmas (along with Christmastide) which generally supplanted it around the 11th century other than in North East England where it remained the usual word (and had the variants of yel and yul), possibly being reinforced by the Norse influence (see Danelaw) on that region. It was revived in regular use in standard English during the 19th century however the name Yule log was recorded earlier in the 17th century.
"Jõul" (singular), more commonly used in plural as "jõulud". Celebrated in line with the Finnish customs. The old tradition of celebrating the winter solstice has nowadays been predominantly replaced or mixed with Protestant or secularised Christmas holidays. Traditional "jõul" celebrations can still be encountered.
Traditionally, "jõulud" were sacred days marking the end of one season and the beginning of the new one. The Earth turned herself towards light, warmth, food and life. It was believed that one's behaviour in the times of jõul determined the good fortune of oneself and the whole household. The souls of deceased relatives were awaited back home; they were seen having a great deal of influence on the fortune of the living. The household was thoroughly cleaned, decorated and the most abundant dishes of the year were prepared. Dried straws were laid across the cleaned floors to signify the start of "jõulud". During the Yule time from 21 to 27 December a light had to be on at all times. Also, it had to be made sure light would not escape the house through the windows, so the latter were carefully covered.
It was a peaceful time for reflection and family, hence games and riddles were played.
Main article: Joulupukki
Main article: Joulupöytä
On the eve of the Finnish Joulu, children are visited by Joulupukki, a character similar to Santa Claus. The word Joulupukki means "Yule Goat" and probably derives from an old Finnish tradition where people called nuuttipukkis dressed in goat hides circulated in homes after Joulu, eating leftover food. Joulupukki visits people's homes and rides a sleigh pulled by a number of reindeer. He knocks on the front door during Jouluaatto, rather than sneaking in through the chimney at night. When he comes in, his first words are usually "Onkos täällä kilttejä lapsia?", "Are there (any) good (well-behaved) children here?". Presents are given and opened immediately. He usually wears red, warm clothes and often carries a wooden walking stick. His workshop is in Korvatunturi, Lapland, Finland, rather than at the North Pole like Santa Claus, or in Greenland. He is married to Joulumuori (tr. Mother Yule).
Typical Finnish yule dishes include ham, various root vegetable casseroles, beetroot salad, gingerbread and star-shaped plum-filled pastries. Other traditions with a non-Christian yule background include joulukuusi ("Yule spruce") and joulusauna ("yule sauna").
The peak of Icelandic jól is when presents are exchanged on aðfangadagskvöld, the evening of December 24, then the gifts are given. It is a custom to eat hamborgarhryggur (smoked pork loin) or rock ptarmigan. Before Christmas some people cut patterns into laufabrauð (e. leaf bread) and bake piparkökur (e. ginger biscuits).
On Þorláksmessa (mass of Saint Thorlakur), December 23, there is a tradition (originally from the Westfjords) to serve fermented skate with melted tallow and boiled potatoes. Boiling the Christmas hangikjöt (smoked leg or shoulder of lamb) on Þorláksmessa evening is said to dispel the strong smell which otherwise tends to linger around the house for days. The hangikjöt and laufabrauð are usually served at Christmas Day, December 25.
Unlike other countries there are 13 traditional jólasveinar Yule Lads that play the same role as the Santa Claus. The first one comes to town from the mountains December 11 and the last one arrives 13 days later on December 24. Children leave their shoe in the window and the Yule Lads leave something in the shoe when they arrive in town. If the children are naughty they might get a potato but if they are nice they might get something good, like candy, clementines or a toy. The Yule Lads all carry a specific name that describes his actions. For instance, the sixth one is Pot-Scraper and what he does best is to scrape leftovers from pots.
December 26 is generally reserved for family gatherings. It involves a lot of eating with relatives, usually with cousins and aunts and uncles.
Although Yule proper starts with the chiming of the church-bells in the afternoon of julaften ("Yule Eve" or "Christmas Eve") on December 24, the previous day lillejulaften (little Christmas Eve), when the tree is put up and decorated, is increasingly the actual start date for the 13 day long Yule celebration in Norway.
Julaften remains the main event, with a traditional lunch, dinner and the exchange of gifts. Traditional dishes vary by region, but ribbe (pork ribs), and pinnekjøtt, some places also codfish are eaten. As a continuation of older beliefs, a bowl of "rice porridge" (julegrøt) is sometimes left outside for nisse that evening.
Throughout December many gather for a julebord, Christmas parties sponsored by companies and institutions for their employees and associates to eat and drink traditional dishes.
The time period between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, is called romjul. Occasionally children dress up in costumes and visit neighbours, where they sing Yuletide carols and receive treats like candy, nuts and clementines. This tradition is called julebukk.
In the old days in certain areas, primarily Setesdalen, adults commonly went from house to house drinking, an event called Toftirus, during the 13 days surrounding Christmas eve. Although increasingly rare and localized, this tradition had developed into today's Drammebukk, where adults visit neighbors in the evening.
For some it is a tradition to watch television shows on Yule Eve. The popular shows are "Tre Nøtter Til Askepott" (Three Nuts for Cinderella), a Czech-German fairy-tale, and "Reisen til Julestjernen", a Norwegian film.
In the Shetland Islands of Scotland the Yules are considered to last a month beginning on December 18 and ending January 18. The main Yules celebration occurs on December 31. The rest of Scotland eventually adopted "Hogmanay" (the name of the New Years presents) as the name for the festival.
Julbock at Gävle, Sweden.
As in many other countries in northern Europe Jultomten brings gifts on julafton ("Yule Eve"), December 24, the day generally thought of as the main jul celebration. Many Swedes watch Kalle Anka och hans vänner (lit. Donald Duck and his friends), a compilation of Disney shorts that broadcast at 3pm on the public service television. This tradition is most likely a remainder since the television monopoly time (ended around 1985) where Disney was not shown in the state controlled TV during the rest of the year.
Almost all Swedish families celebrate with a julbord (variety of smörgåsbord), which traditionally includes julskinka (baked ham), sill (pickled herring), janssons frestelse, and a collection of meatballs, sausages, meats and patés. The julbord is traditionally served with beer, julmust, mumma (a mix of beer, liquor and svagdricka) and snaps. The dishes vary throughout the country. Businesses invite staff to a julbord dinner or lunch in preceding weeks, and people go privately to restaurants offering julbord during December. Swedes also enjoy glögg. Glögg is a mulled wine (with spices like cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves and bitter orange) often "topped" with some vodka and then served hot with raisins and almonds. Yulegifts are distributed either by Jultomten (usually from a sack) or from under the Christmas tree. In older days a julbock (yule goat, still used in Finland called Joulupukki) was an alternative to Jultomten; now it is used as an ornament, ranging in size from 10 cm to huge constructions like the Gävle goat. The following day some people attend a julotta mass in a church - prefferably on a horsesled. These day even more people venture to the movies as December 25 is a day of big premieres.
As forms of Neopaganism can be quite different and have very different origins, these representations can vary considerably despite the shared name. Some celebrate in a way as close as possible to how they believe Ancient Germanic pagans observed the tradition, while others observe the holiday with rituals culled from numerous other unrelated sources including Germanic.
In Germanic Neopagan sects, Yule is celebrated with gatherings that often involve a meal and gift giving. Further attempts at reconstruction of surviving accounts of historical celebrations are often made, a hallmark being variations of the traditional. Groups such as the Asatru Folk Assembly in the US recognize the celebration as lasting 12 days, beginning on the date of the winter solstice.
In most forms of Wicca, this holiday is celebrated at the winter solstice as the rebirth of the Great horned hunter god, who is viewed as the newborn solstice sun. The method of gathering for this sabbat varies by practitioner. Some have private ceremonies at home, while others do so with their covens. Yule festivities for modern Wiccans and neopagans involve the burning of the Yule log on an open fire to honour the lord Cernunnos or the Horned God; the log is decorated with holly and other symbolic paraphernalia.
Also during the many Wiccan Yule rituals, the Holly King dies and the Oak King is born. This signifies the changes in the season.