‘Tis the time of the year to toast the season with shouts of joy and skoal! Many of us know this time of year as Yuletime, Yuletide and celebrate the Yule. In Scandinavia and many germanic areas, It is Jul (pronounced yule). If you have any Norwegian, Finn, Danish, Icelandic, German or Swedish background, you’ve likely enjoyed some of the fruits of the Jul season.
We’ve heard of and perhaps secretly enjoyed fruitcakes. There are feasts during Jul. I remember Jul smorgasbords with fondness. As a vegetarian, I am excused from choking down the lutefisk. If the home is equipped with a fireplace, people can enjoy the famous tradition of burning the Yulelog.
One of my favorite, arcane joys is that of the Jul Gavle (yule goat). Traditional Swedes and Norwegians make sure to hang small Jul Gavle on their Yule Trees. Jul Gavle represent the God, Thor’s goats. In the old stories, Thor slaughtered one for food, then resurrected it the next morning with his hammer. The straw goats represent an endless food source that the ancients would have greatly wished for in the harsh winters near the Arctic Circle.
One tradition that I practice is that of leaving a small food offering outside at night for the Nisse (goblins). My Nisse are probably squirrels, rabbits and opossums. My ancient ancestors likely enjoyed the Jul traditions of food and drink. To shouts of “skoal”, the first toast was to Odin in thankfulness for war victories and royal power. A second toast went to the Gods, Njörðr and Freyr for the blessings of a bountiful harvest and peace with their neighbors. A third mug of brew was toasted to the good health of the king. Traditionally, more toasts were made to one and all, plus a special toast in memory of dead family ancestors.
The Jul season predates Christianity by centuries. Religious scholars note that Winter Solstice, the great hunt, the God Odin and Thor are connected with Jul. Even the Anglo-Saxon peoples had their equivalant, called Modranicht.
With the conquest of Scandinavia by Christians, Jul or Yule became absorbed into the custom of celebrating Christmas. Like Saturnalia of ancient Rome, Jul or Yule traditions have morphed into the Christmas feasting, gift-giving and religious practices of the west. With the blending of Christmas into the original, traditional cultures, the word “Yule” has become synonymous with “Christmas”.
Here in the United States, we enjoy the mixture of many ancient traditions and rites that have evolved into our own holiday season. In addition to pockets of Scandinavians still celebrating the original Jul, some modern neo-pagans have adopted the Yule season and incorporated their own new traditions and rituals.
The Blue Jay of Happiness thinks there should be a Jul-Jay!