Thursday, December 22, 2005

Yule - midwinter celebration

Yule, or more precisely ‘Jul’ is a Nordic name for the heathen feast that was celebrated in the middle of January. There were at least two such feasts or offerings every year in Scandinavia, one in midsummer and one in midwinter.

While the English and Americans have their “Christmas” (‘The Mass of Jesus Christ’) and the Germans their “Weihnachten” (‘Holy Night’) the Nordic countries still have the original ancient word ‘jul’. Since the word occurs in different variations in other Germanic languages, it is likely to believe that the ‘jul’ celebration was a common Germanic feast.

The use of the word ‘Xmas’ is of cause due to the Americans' love for simplifications, Xmas is Christmas and the ‘X’ is also a symbol for the cross. The word is close to a pictorial word.

Yule - or more correctly ‘jul’ utmost origin and actual meaning is still somehow unclear since it is truly very ancient, but we can concrete trace the word back about 2000 years, even though it’s older than that. Today the Nordic people (Sweden, Denmark and Norway) all say ‘jul’, and they use the word in plural, and that indicates that there have been several feasts, a festival period.

The first time we hear about the word is in the poem by the Norwegian ‘skald’ (poet) Torbjørn Hornklove, ‘Haraldskvadet’ (The poetry for Harold’), from about 900. He writes about ‘drikke jul’ (‘drinking jul’). The saga tells us that people were gathering and brewing beer to be drink in memory of the gods. The beer drinking in honour of the gods was to increase the growth and to make peace.

“This memorial drinking was not to go away from the heathen tradition. The expression “at drekka jol”, to drink Christmas, was the common expression for Christmas celebrations even in the 16th century. The god of jul had the name Jolne, and that was Odin. We can find this name in a poem called ‘Jolna sumbl’. It means intoxicant of Odin. The beer drinking gave people courage to turn to the gods.” (source - the Viking Network)

In the wild and mythical landscape of Norway survived the old Indo-European word for the midwinter feast: Jul. (Extract from J.C. Dahl - Fra Stalheim, 1842. Norway National Gallery)
A few centuries later we find the word in Old-English “geohul”, but this word does not survive and in modern times the English looks north and borrow “yule” from Scandinavian languages. The same is story behind the Germans’ “Jul”.

The oldest source we can trace is in Gothic, a extinct German language that is preserved through a Bible translation that was made about 300 B.C. Bishop Wulfila (310-383) is most likely the translator, and thanks to him we have glance into early German in generality and the Gothic branch in special. The fantastic Silver Bible, that is stored and preserved in Uppsala, Sweden, is a transcript from about the 500-century of the above translation.

Even though the word ‘jul’ does not exist in the Bible there is a fragment of a calendar in the translation where the word “jiuleris” stands for the Christmas month” (Staffan Hammerman).
Scientist regards that the word “jehwla” is the oldest trace of the Common-German form. What it means is still debated. What we do know is that symbols used to represent “jul” are evergreen trees, yule log, holly, eight-spoked wheel, wreaths, spinning wheels. ‘Jul’ means “feast” and allegorical even “wheel”.

Why wheel?

Yule is also known as the Winter Solstice, Alban Arthan, Finn's Day, Festival of Sol, Yuletide, Great Day of the Cauldron, and Festival of Growth. It is celebrated between December 20th and 22nd. The reason it varies from year to year is that it depends on when the Sun reaches the southern most point in its yearly cycle.

A cycle is represented as a wheel, like the snake that bites it’s own tail. The celebration of the cycle of nature and a reaffirmation of the continuation of life where the Beginning meets the End like Death meets Birth.

“And from time immemorial, Yule has been a time of peace and charity. In Norway, work had to be reduced to a minimum, and no wheels were to be turned, for that would show impatience with the great wheel in the sky, the sun. As part of this time-- called Julafred, or Peace of Christmas -- neither bird, beast nor fish is trapped, shot or netted.” See

The root word for “jul” aka “Yule” came from the aboriginal Scandinavians, and in Norwegian we have the word “hjul” for “wheel”. The two words “jul” and “hjul” are nearly identical!

Still, in spite of the beauty of the above similarity, linguistics does not longer associate “jul” with “wheel” and they regard the connection to be a popular myth. Damn! “Jul” aka “Yule” has always meant concrete a feast, the festival at the Winter Solstice. The word for wheel, on the other hand, came from the Indo-Europeans who migrated to Scandinavia around 3800 BC. The daily use of wheels did not start until about 2500 BC!

God jul (Merry Christmas) !



Anonymous said...

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PS: Do you write any of your own material or just post other essays?

Anonymous said...

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Don't think so........

fieldmouse said...

perhaps you'd be better off reading about what they have to say instead of fretting about what images they use.

Do you also not listen to any buddhists or hindus because they believe the swastika to be an important and sacred cultural symbol?

I recommended that site because its perspective is similar and sympathetic to alot of the authors whose articles are posted here.

fieldmouse said...



They emphaitically opposed to bigotry.