As the holiday season comes, most of us are filling our hearts and homes with the Christmas spirit. December is also the month of the year when we care the most about people around us and wish them joyful holidays. Our Viking ancestors weren’t of Christian descent, but they were surprisingly no different from us during this magnificent time of the year, the glorious December.
Germanic people loved to celebrate Yule, an old Viking celebration dedicated to God Odin, in whose honor they would sing, dance, drink beer, and feast. Yule feast would usually start on the day of the Winter Solstice and last for the next 12 days, which is about the same time frame most of the modern world celebrates their holidays ten centuries later.
Yule or Jol, how Vikings used to call it, was the time of the year filled with happiness and peace when all the energy was centered on the old Norse gods and traditions connected to this special holiday. As you can see, there are far too many similarities between Christian and Viking Christmas for them to be coincidental.
Did Vikings Celebrate Yule?
When we are talking about the past, especially the one with no so much historical evidence, we have to remember that there is always a chance some things didn’t happen exactly how we imagine them. Because of that, we cannot say for sure that Vikings honored their version of Christmas, but we can say that it happens with high likelihood.
As we previously mentioned, there is much evidence to support the fact that modern Christmas traditions derive from the Viking Yule, a germanic celebration that lasted for 12 days. For example, the Christmas tree is probably the centerpiece of countless homes during the winter celebrations for the most modern world, and it was no different during the Viking Yule.
Namely, during the Winter Solstice, many Norse men and women would gather in the wood, trying to find an evergreen tree to cut it down with an ax and bring back to their home. Once a Viking brought his Yule tree from the woods, he would carve the runes into it, asking the Gods to hear his wishes and bring him and his family good health and prosperity. Afterward, he would cut a piece of the Yule tree’s trunk and set it on fire. This piece of wood was called the Yule log, and it represented the rebirth of the Sun. Both the Yule log and tree are part of modern-day traditions as well, only in a different form, Yule tree is what we know today as the Christmas tree, and we can think of the Christmas light as a contemporary Yule log.
But despite numerous similarities, some things differ between Christmas and Yule. One Yule ritual, commonly known as the Yule goat, is a tradition only connected to the Norse culture. Yule goat was usually made out of wheat straws, decorated with different fabrics and jewelry, and it represented Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr, two goats who, according to Norse mythology, pulled Thor’s chariot. Young Viking men who wanted to pay homage to God Thor went even further with the Yule goat tradition and dressed like goats every night, visiting many Viking households. Those young men were considered to be sent from God Thor himself, so it was a duty of every honorable Viking to treat with food and drinks.
What is Viking Christmas Called?
Viking Christmas, commonly known as Yule, comes from an old Norse word Jol which was always connected to God Odin’s attributes. For example, Prose Edda provides us with the title jólfaðr, meaning Yule father, and having known that Yule was Odin’s holiday, it is obvious where its name originates. Most modern linguists and historians now agree that the French word ‘Joli’ and the English word ‘Jolly’ probably derived from the old Norse word Jol.
Is Yule Norse?
Celebrating the Winter solstice has been connected to many different cultures at different moments in history. As there is almost no chance that some of these cultures could come in touch with one another, we can probably say that celebrating this holiday is an archetypical and innate human need.
The ancient Greeks had a Kronia celebration, a festival dedicated to the titan Cronus, during which everyone would sing, dance, and feast. Similarly, the ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a celebration dedicated to the god Saturn that was usually held in the second half of December. All the traditions connected to these two ancient holidays are not much different than the ones that revolved around the germanic celebration of Yule.
Because of all this, the true answer to the question: ‘Is Yule Norse?’ is somewhere in between. Yule was indeed a Norse holiday when Vikings welcomed the return of the Sun and showed gratefulness to their Gods, but its origin probably wasn’t in Scandinavia.
What Religion is Yule?
Although Yule is still celebrated today in Heathenry and other neo-pagan religions, it is fair to say that its existence is mostly connected to the old Viking faith. Most historians go even further and say that the figure of an old grey man who delivers gifts worldwide, commonly known as Santa Claus has little to do with Christianity and was the product of Norse religion. One of the Viking traditions that occurred during Yule, called Old Man Winter, was probably where this legend was born.
In every Viking settlement, several older men visited different households in their neighborhood during Yule. This older man most likely represented god Odin, and it was a great honor for every Viking to invite him in and feast with him.
We hope that we managed to achieve our goal and introduced you to Yule celebrations, a Norse holiday everyone can celebrate during the wintertime regardless of their religious beliefs. Because although both Christmas and Yule traditions are deeply connected to different religious practices, their point is the same. The main purpose of both the holidays has little to do with gifting expensive clothes and jewelry but has everything to do with sharing, and that is what we wish to you, our fellow Vikings.
Merry Christmas! Happy Yule! And in that name skål!