Yule - Festivities & Curiosities

Updated: Dec 9, 2021


Yule starts near mid November considering the Lunar Calendar which rules all Nordic events. However, considering the Gregorian Calendar it falls in December.

For the Nordic peoples, Yule or Jol, as it was initially written, was the month in which the Winter Solstice day marked Earth’s own rebirth. It was the time when the crop fields would be ready to be cultivated, the daylight time gradually increasing, thus encouraging the soil’s fertility. As well as, celebrating the rebirth of plants, animals, new generations and even the Rebirth of the human’s soul.

Short Story “A day of Yule”:

As the Goddess Newt began to extend her cloak and the little light that Frey kept over humans, Jnanam now tries to cover it in darkness so the cycle could once again be initiated.

Newt had finally extended her cloak bringing along the nightfall, but today it happened earlier than usual. It seemed as though a cold wind began to blow, which the old folk

retort that it was a sign that Fenrir was on the loose.

Everyone was sitting around the bonfire, seeking the warm shelter of the flames, honouring Gods traditions as runes dissolved to ashes.


Gods are honoured, their feats told and echoed so they won’t be forgotten by the younger generations. On this day, the shortest of the year, the Winter Solstice day, Jarl bestows gratitude to Thor for bringing fire to Midgard, to Odin for sharing mead who warms, cheers and inspires humans, to Skadi for teaching to hunt in these icy lands and to Freya for making them fertile once the snow melts away. But Gods are as majestic as they are demanding, and they demand us an exchange: there must be a sacrifice, since for life to exist, there must also exist death… The night drags out until everyone prepares themselves to rest for the night and face a new day.


And so, it falls into a silence as icy as the cold snow that builds up on the roofs, the wind whistles through the door cracks and the snapping sound of burning wood was the only noise that broke the heavy silence of that room. The flames that danced in turns, must be kept alive until dawn, in case the Gods crave disgrace upon this house.

(Written by: Guilherme Pires / Edited by: Ana Caramujo).




Elements:

Fire - Element brought from the Norse Gods Pantheon by Thor to illuminate the mortals; Invitation to the Sun;

Hunt - Offerings, sacrifices, sustenance;

Nature - Invitation to fertility and rebirth;

Sacrifice - Payment to the Gods for obtaining knowledge, comfort and fertility;


Celebrations:

Began on Winter Solstice’s sunset and ended 12 days later. The 12 days and 13 nights of Yule. Each day honoured a God and a tradition. The festivities traditionally were ruled by the lunar calendar but given today's times we are considering the days as matching the christian/roman calendar as it better as it's easier to relate/conjugate with modern celebrations.


20th of December - Mothers - The ruling Goddess of this Day and Night is Freya or Frigg, it's the day before the solstice and symbolizes being born and new starts;


21st of December - The Wild Hunt - The Winter Solstice, ruled by Odin. A day to stay home and honor the Ancestors, while the Allfather is out hunting lost souls and the dead, it's the peak of the hunt that starts on vetrnætr/samhain. A day to remember patience and ancestry;


22nd of December - Night - Ruled by Mani, the Norse God of the Moon. It signals the beginning of the return of Sunna (Goddess of the Sun) and it’s a day to remember our dreams and courage, as darkness is not just cold and empty thanks to the gentle light of Mani;


23rd of December - Generous Night - Ruled by Njord and Freyr, Gods of Abundance. reminding us to open up our houses and hearts and share love so that abundance may come, it also represents the calling of spring and fertility;


24th of December - The Giving Day - A day of community, sharing and hospitality. It represents the peak, with all its fertility and abundance, to receive and give back, Frey and Freya are the ruling deities of this day;


25th of December - Healing - The ruling goddess is Eir. This is a day of care: to care for others and for ourselves, to remind us to have the discipline to learn from our mistakes and forgiveness. It stands both for physical and spiritual wellbeing, being the mistletoe the symbol for healing;


26th of December- Day of Children - The ruling deity is Thor, accompanied by Sif (his wife). It's a day of protection and loyalty, rebirth and nourishment, and the yulegoat comes out on this day, as it is the animal of Thor;


27th of December - Hunting Day - Ruled by Skadi and Ullr. A day of gathering, preparing and thanking those who bring us the food that allows us to survive. It is also a day for skiing and similar activities (often used by hunters of the time);


28th of December - Day of Fathers - Usually run by Odin, but I would personally honour Tyr instead, as it is a day of virtue and teaching, to remind us to live honorably and follow moral purpose;


29th of December - Day of Light - Ruled by Sunna/Sol, the Goddess of the Sun, to remember that she will become stronger each passing day, and light and warmth will come again, the beginning of a new cycle that brings growth with it;


30th of December - The Day of Warriors - Ruled by Valkeries. A day to remind us to fight for ourselves, when no one else will, to stand up for our values and beliefs and stay true. The Norse gods do not save anyone, they support those who fight for themselves.


31st of December - Wassail and the Oath Night - It is a day and night to celebrate the end of the wild hunt and the arrival of a new cycle. It is full of feasting, storytelling and joy. It was the biggest feast of the season where each would reflect on the passing year and make plans for the future one, making an oath on them. It stands for wisdom, prosperity, growth, health and luck.


From Yule to Christmas

On the night that Odin would come to Midgard to hunt spirits, there was also the tradition of gifts and offerings exchange, which would later become the figure known as Santa Claus as we know it today.


It was tradition to bring something from Nature inside our houses in order to invite the Abundance and Fertility Gods to bless the house with good harvests during the year that was about to begin. This tradition became what is known today as the Christmas tree. From this ritual also comes the green wreaths that we today hand on our exterior house door: round to symbolize the Sun, made of flowers, leaves, fruits, twigs, etc to attract and welcome Spring as reminder that it shall return again;


The Ham/ Turkey was a boar roast made to thank the twin Gods of Fertility (Frey and Freya), to welcome it into the following harvest, and to thank for the year that ended;


Yule’s log (known today as Christmas log) was a large oak log engraved with runes asking for protection from the Gods. This log was burned during the celebration;


The mistletoe also very likely originates from Norse Pagan rituals. It was considered the most innocent creation, and it was used by Loki to kill the invulnerable God Baldur, son of Freya. It is said that, when he died Freya wept so much that the mistletoe turned white with regret, and thus acquired healing and blessing properties containing the Goddess’s tears;


It is said that a log coming out of the fireplace, or the fire extinguishing during the night, is an omen that bad luck is to come. Ideally, a log should be burned during the whole night, on each of the 12 days of Yule. Keeping the fire alive during these 12 days would be a good omen. Vikings held a piece of the log for next year’s fire.


In a spirit of giving and receiving, and to praise life, it demanded the gift of death in return, so all sacrificed animals, specially goats, were consumed during the celebrations.

Not-so-fun morbid fact: it was not only animals that were sacrificed, humans were as well! Their corpses were hanged by the neck or by the feet. That is why we hang ornaments on our Christmas tree today. (((Hope we haven’t ruined pretty Christmas ornaments for you!)))



Yule Goat:

It’s a celebration that involves a goat made of straws, establishing a connection with God Thor, who killed his goats for a feast then resurrecting them from the dead the next morning.


The connection with the sacrificed animals, during this time, to be consumed and offered to the Gods, was fortunately replaced by straw goats that are still today symbolically “sacrificed”.


The straw goats were burned in bonfires lit during the festivity as offerings to the Gods to worship Light, Rebirth and Fire.


During this season, in order for the Gods to give us fire and light, we had to give something in return, which usually were goat debts that were sacrificed but it changed to straw goats that were burned in bonfires. Some people would write messages on pieces of paper and put a red string attached to the goat’s neck, so when it was burned, the wishes could go directly to the Gods.



Another tradition involved people masking themselves and disguised their voices, and went door to door and whoever answered had to try and guess who it was. When the mystery person was discovered, they would offer drinks and candy. A person of the family was then invited to disguise themselves and go door to door in order to keep the game going.

The clothes and masks resembled Tontem or to its goats, for this reason most of the masks had horns.


Fun fact:

Tontem was a small 1 meter high mythological creature from Winter’s Solstice who had a long white beard and cheerful clothing and was accompanied by his snow goat creatures known to be bearers of gifts, and is today associated with Santa Claus.


Curiosities and the meaning of colours

Red - corpses hanged by the trees; - Offerings Box

White - symbolizes snow; - Winter Box

Golden - symbolizes the celebration of Light, Sun and Fire; - Sun Box

Green - just how trees symbolize Earth and Nature’s rebirth; - Rebirth Box