What is Yule?

Posted Friday, Dec 15, 2023

That many of our Christmas traditions come from far-ranging and often pagan observations is common knowledge, and the term yule (and its attendant terms yuletide and yule log) is no exception. Regardless of the origin, we’re left with the question: “What is Yule?”

What is YuleAs far as can be determined, yule comes from the Old English word geol, which denoted a Germanic festival. If you’re unfamiliar with Old English, I encourage you to find it on the internet and listen to someone read an oral passage- it doesn’t sound English at all, but it does sound neat. Incidentally, the letter “g” makes a “y” sound in Old English; thus, geol would sound to us as yeol. Anyway, it was the language spoken in England during the 7th-11th centuries after the Angles and Saxons invaded Britain. When these two groups arrived, they naturally brought with them their religion and customs. Being from Scandinavia, this religion and these customs reflected what we’ve come to associate with vikings. One such custom was a winter celebration that included the Wild Hunt, the god Odin (Anthony Hopkins has been around for longer than we thought), and the return of the sun. The celebration lasted for about two weeks, and it took place during the month of geola, which is obviously another reference to yule.

When Christianity made it to the shores of Angle-land (England), the pagan holidays and festivals were recast in a Christiaan light. Hence, the festival of geol, which happened at about the same time as Christmas, morphed into the celebration of the birth of the messiah. So, yule became synonymous with Christmas, and the twelve day celebration of geol became the Twelve Days of Christmas. I’m just not sure how the missionaries convinced these viking-folk to replace their Wild Hunt with partridges, turtle doves, and lords-a-leaping...

Photo by Addy Mae on Unsplash

Tags: , , , ,