caption="Juletræslys", a Danish Yule Tree Candle
Northern Europeans and Various Anglosphereans
date=Northern Hemisphere: circa
Southern Hemisphere: circa
Yule Logs, Feasting, Caroling, Being with Loved Ones.
significance=Marks the Ancient
Midwinter, or the Winter solstice.
Solstice, Quarter days, Wheel of the Year, Winter Festivals
nickname=Yuletide, Yulefest, Yules, Jul, Juletid, Julfest, Jül, Jól, Joul, Joulu, Jõulud, Joelfeest, Géol, Feailley Geul,
Midwinter, The Winter Solstice
Yule is a winter festival historically celebrated primarily in northern
Europebut now celebrated in many other countries in various forms. Yule celebrations often coincide with Christmas. Modern Yule traditions include decorating a firor spruce tree, burning a Yule log, hanging mistletoeand hollybranches, giving gifts, and general celebration and merriment.
Germanic peoplescelebrated Yule from late December to early January on a date determined by the lunar Germanic calendar. [ [http://www.ealdriht.org/tide.html "The Anglo-Saxon Calendar"] ] When the Julian calendarwas adopted in northern Europe, Yule was placed on December 25 to correspond with the date of Christmas. [Snorri Sturluson, " [http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/598 Heimskringla] ", "Yule in Ancient Norway"] Colloquially the terms "Yule" and "Christmas" are often used interchangeably. [cite web|url=http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/yule?view=uk|title=AskOxford.com|accessdate=2007-11-20]
Also, Yule was the name of the original
Father Christmas, as stated in "Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe", during the Feast of the Innocents (around Yule time) "the 'riding', or procession, of Yule (the original Father Christmas) and his wife was a great event in sixteenth century York..."
The modern English word "Yule" likely derives from the word "yoole", from 1450, which developed from the
Old Englishterm "geōl" and "geōla" before 899. The term has been linked to and may originate from the Old Norse"Jōl", which refers to a Germanic pagan feastlasting 12 days that was later Christianized into Christmas.Barnhart, Robert K. "The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology" (1995) ISBN 0062700847]
In Old English "geōla" [ [http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=yule Online Etymology Dictionary:yule] ] meant "December". The ancient Anglo-Saxon calendar had two "tides" of 60 day periods: "Litha Tide", roughly equivalent to modern June and July, and "Giuli Tide" to December and January. The remaining months were lunar 29-day periods—the New Year began with the second half of that tide, also known as "Wulfmonath".
A 12-day period between the two halves—or "monaths"—became the traditional
Twelve Days of Christmas. With the return to the Latin-based calendar through the invading Normans, the definition narrowed to mean Christmas day only in the combined Christian Norman and Anglo-Saxon England.
"Jól" may derive from Old Norse "hjól", "wheel", referring to the moment when the wheel of the year is at its low point, ready to rise again (compare to the Slavic
karachun). This theory seems based more on similarities between the words "jul" and "hjul" (with a mute h) in modern Scandinavian languages, than on older cognates or historical sources. The Old English form "Geohhol" may connect to the word to Latin "jocus". [de_icon Fick, August; Falk, Hjalmar; Torp, Alf (1909). "Wörterbuch der Indogermanischen Sprachen: Dritter Teil: Wortschatz der Germanischen Spracheinheit". Göttingen Vandenhoek und Ruprecht. p. 328.]
Scandinavian Germanic languages, the term "Jul" covers both "Yule" and "Christmas", and is occasionally used to denote other holidays in December, such as "jødisk jul" or "judisk jul", meaning "Jewish Yule" for Hanukkah. Neighboring Finniclanguages borrow the word to denote Christmas, Finnish as "joulu" and Estonian as "jõul" .
Yule celebrations at the winter solstice predate
Christianity. Yule is a feast celebrated by sacrifice on mid winter night 12 January, according to Norwegian historian Olav Bø. [ [http://www.griffith.edu.au/centre/cpci/atr/journal/number4_article3.htm] ] There are many references to Yule in the Icelandic sagasbut few accounts of how Yule was celebrated beyond the fact it was a time for feasting. According to Adam of Bremen, Swedish kings sacrificed male slaves every ninth year during the Yule sacrifices at the Temple at Uppsala. 'Yule-Joy' with dancing continued through the Middle Agesin Iceland but was frowned upon after the Reformation. The ritual of slaughtering a boaron Yule survives in the modern tradition of the Christmas hamand the Boar's Head Carol.:"On Yule Eve the best boar in the herd was brought into the hall where the assembled company laid their hands upon the animal and made their unbreakable oaths. Heard by the boar these oaths were thought to go straight to the ears of Freyrhimself. Once the oaths had been sworn the boar was sacrificed in the name of Freyr and the feast of boar flesh began. The most commonly recognised remnant of the sacred boar traditions once common at Yule has to be the serving of the boar's head at later Christmas feasts". [ [http://www.orkneyjar.com/tradition/yule/yule4.htm Orkneyjar - Sow Day - Slaughtering the Sacred Boar?] ]
According to the medieval English writer the
Venerable Bede, Christianmissionaries sent to proselytize among the Germanic peoplesof northern Europe were instructed to superimpose Christian themes upon existing local pagan holidays, to ease the conversion of the people to Christianity by allowing them to retain their traditional celebrations. Thus, Christmaswas created by associating stories of the birth of Jesusof Nazareth, the central figure of Christianity, with the existing pagan Yule celebrations, similar to the formation of Halloweenand All Saint's Dayvia Christianization of existing pagan traditions.
The confraternities of artisans of the 9th century, which developed into the medieval
guilds, were denounced by Catholic clergy for their "conjurations" when they swore to support one another in coming adversity and in business ventures. The occasions were annual banquets on December 26,:"feast day of the pagan god Jul, when it was possible to couple with the spirits of the dead and with demons that returned to the surface of the earth... Many clerics denounced these conjurations as being not only a threat to public order but also, more serious in their eyes, satanic and immoral. Hincmar, in 858, sought in vain to Christianize them." [cite book |last=Rouche |first=Michel |editor=Paul Veyne |title=A History of Private Life, Vol. I |year=1987 |publisher=Harvard University Press |isbn=0-674-39974-9 |pages=432 |chapter=Private life conquers state and society]
Many symbols and motifs associated with the modern holiday of
Christmasderive from traditional pagannorthern European Yule celebrations. The burning of the Yule log, the decorating of Christmas trees, the eating of ham, the hanging of boughs, holly, mistletoeand others are all historically practices associated with Yule. When the Christianizationof the Germanic peoples began, missionaries found it convenient to provide a Christian reinterpretation of popular pagan holidays such as Yule and allow the celebrations themselves to go on largely unchanged, versus trying to confront and suppress them. The Scandinavian tradition of slaughtering a pig at Christmas (see Christmas ham) is probably salient evidence of this. The tradition is thought to be derived from the sacrifice of boars to the god Freyrat the Yule celebrations. Halloweenand aspects of Eastercelebrations are likewise assimilated from northern European pagan festivals.
Bede's " Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum" contains a letter from Pope Gregory Ito Saint Mellitus, who was on his way to England to conduct missionary work among the pagan Anglo-Saxons. Pope Gregory suggested that converting heathens would go easier if they were allowed to retain the outward forms of their traditional pagan practices and traditions, while recasting those traditions spiritually towards the Christian God instead of to their pagan "devils": "to the end that, whilst some gratifications are outwardly permitted them, they may the more easily consent to the inward consolations of the grace of God". [ [http://www.englishheathenism.homestead.com/popesletter.html Letter From Pope Gregory] ]
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 "nuuttipukki"s dressed in goat hidescirculated in homes after Joulu, eating leftover food. Joulupukki visits people's homes and rides a sleighpulled by a number of reindeer. He knocks on the front door during "Jouluaatto", rather than sneaking in through the chimneyat 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 Polelike 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" ("Uule spruce") and "joulusauna" ("yule sauna").
The main Jul event for Norwegians is on "Julaften" (Tr:Yule Eve) on
December 24th, when the main feast is served and gifts are exchanged. The family traditionally eat "ribbe" (pork ribs) or pinnekjøtt, with rice puddingfor dessert, often with a scalded almond and a prize for the finder. Almost all Norwegian breweries produce traditional beer, "juleøl" (Yule Ale), and a special soda, "julebrus" (Tr: Yule Brew). Jul dishes are also served on " Julebord" (Tr:Yule Table), where people from work gather in early December to feast and drink alcoholic beverages. Traditionally, the mother of the house bakes seven types of cookies, "julekaker". In the tradition called "Julebukk " or "Nyttårsbukk", children dress up in costumes, visit neighbours, singing Christmas carols and receiving candy, nuts and clementines. They do this any day between Julaften and New Year's Eve. In older times in some areas, primarily Setesdalen, adults commonly went from house to house drinking, an event called "Toftirus", "12-day high", during 12 days surrounding Christmas eve. Although it is now only practiced by a tiny minority and is unknown to most of Norway, this tradition apparently developed into today's "Drammebukk", where adults dress up later in the evening, visit neighbors and receive drinks.
Denmark, Jul is celebrated on December 24, which is called "Juleaftensdag" ("Juleaften" for Christmas Eve specifically). An elaborate dinner is eaten with the family, consisting of roast pork, roast duck or roast goose with 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.
Almost all Swedish families celebrate with a "
julbord", which almost always includes " julskinka" (baked ham) and is served with beer, " julmust", 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". A widespread modern tradition is to watch cartoons ('Kalle Anka', the Swedish name for Donald Duck) broadcasted by the Swedish public service television every Christmas eve at 3 pm. Gifts 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 julottaand even more venture to the cinema districts as 25 December is the day of the big premieres.
The peak of icelandic jól is when presents are exchanged on "aðfangadagskvöld", the evening of December 24th. It is a custom to eat a stuffed turkey, hamborgarahryggur (salted pork ribs) 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 23rd, there is a tradition (originally from the Westfjords) to serve fermented skata (stingray) with melted tallow and boiled potatoes. Boiling the Christmas hangikjöt (hanged meat) the day after serving the skate is said to dispel the strong smell which otherwise tends to linger around the house for days.
Unlike other countries there are 13 traditional jólasveinar "
Yule Lads" that play the same roll as the Santa Claus. The first one comes to town from the mountains December 12th and the last one arrives 12 days later on December 24th. Children leave their shoe in the window and the Yule Lads leave something in the shoe when they arrive to town. If the children are naughty they might get a potato but if they are nice they might get something good, like candy, an apple 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 26th is generally reserved for family gatherings. It involves a lot of eating with relatives, usually with cousins and aunts and uncles.
Shetland Islandsof Scotlandthe Yules are considered to last a month beginning on December 18th and ending January 18th. The main "Yules" celebration occurs on December 31st. The rest of Scotland eventually adopted " Hogmanay" (the name of the New Years presents) as the name for the festival. [ [http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/Scotland-History/Hogmanay.htm UK History] ]
As forms of
neopaganismcan 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. However it has been pointed out that this is not really reconstruction as these traditions never died out - they have merely removed the superficial Christian elements from the celebrations
Groups such as the
Asatru Folk Assemblyin the US recognize the celebration as lasting 12 days, beginning on the date of the winter solstice. McNallen, Stephen "The Twelve Days of Yule - 2005" [http://www.runestone.org/flash/articles/12days2005.htm] ]
Wiccanbased sects favor a plethora of sources on winter solstice holidays to recreate a type of Yule holiday. While the name "Yule" is used, it is not a reconstruction of the historical holiday. Wreaths, Yule logs, decoration of trees, decorating with mistletoe, holly, and ivy, exchanges of presents, and even wassailingare incorporated and regarded as sacred. The return of the Sun as Freyis commemorated in some groups. In most Wiccan traditions, this holiday is also celebrated as the rebirth of the Great God, [cite web |url=http://local.lancasteronline.com/4/213802 |title=Wiccans, pagans ready to celebrate Yule |accessdate=2007-12-21 |author=James Buescher |date=2007-12-15 |publisher= [http://local.lancasteronline.com Lancaster Online] ] who is viewed as the newborn solstice sun. The method of gathering for this sabbat varies by practitioner. Some have private ceremonies at home, [cite web |url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9507E5DA113FF932A15751C1A961958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all |title=Celebrations; It's Solstice, Hanukkah, Kwannza: Let There Be Light! |accessdate=2007-12-21 |author=Andrea Kannapell |date=1997-12-21 |publisher= [http://www.nytimes.com nytimes.com] ] while others do so with their covens. [cite web |url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A04E3DD1E3EF930A25751C0A9669C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=1 |title=Like Magic, Witchcraft Charms Teenagers |accessdate=2007-12-21 |author=Ruth la Ferla |date=2000-12-13 |publisher= [http://www.nytimes.com nytimes.com] ]
Traditions and Lore
* Yule Ham
List of winter festivals
* Stone, John Robert. [http://www.kami.demon.co.uk/gesithas/calendar/obs_bede.html "Observing Bede's Anglo-Saxon Calendar"]
* Asatru Folk Assembly. [http://www.runestone.org/articles/eightfestivals.htm "The Eight Great Festivals of Asatru"]
Leo Ruickbie, [http://www.witchology.com/contents/december/yule/index.php "The Winter Sabbat" (also available as pdf download)]
* [http://www.packrat-pro.com/celts/celtholidays.htm Celtic Festivals and Traditions]
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