Yule Date in the current year: December 21, 2024

Yule Yule, also known as Yuletide, is an ancient Germanic midwinter festival. It is observed on the day of winter solstice, originating as a pagan festival celebrated by the Germanic peoples. Some of its customs are still reflected in the present-day Christmas celebrations.

Historians have connected Yule to the European folklore motif of the Wild Hunt, the Germanic god Odin, and Mōdraniht (Modranicht), a pagan Anglo-Saxon celebration dedicated to female deities known as the Matres and Matronae. The word “Yule” is believed to have been derived from one of the numerous names of Odin.

In pre-Christian times, Yule was a twelve-day festival that began at the winter solstice. It marked the turn from winter to spring. The Germanic peoples celebrated it by lighting fires, blessing the crops, and drinking ale. An old Icelandic saga mentions a Yuletide sacrifice of a boar to Freyr, a Germanic deity associated with prosperity and virility, whose mount was the gold-bristled boar Gullinbursti.

As Christianity began to spread across Europe, Yule was merged with Christmas celebrations. The names of some Christmas traditions still have the word “Yule” in them: Yule log, Yule goat, Yule ham, Yule singing. Even evergreen plants commonly associated with Christmas, such mistletoe and holly, used to be Yule symbols.

The Yule log is probably the best known symbol of Yuletide. It is a specially selected log burnt on the hearth on or around Christmas. The burning of the Yule log symbolizes the battle between good and evil: as the fire burns hotter and turns the log into ashes, it alludes to the victory of good over evil.

As the old-fashioned fireplaces went out of use, the custom became less common. However, its traces can still be found in many cultures. For example, a traditional dessert served near Christmas in the French-speaking countries and regions is called Yule log (bûche de Noël). It’s a log-shaped roulade resembling a miniature actual Yule log.

Another Christmas symbol and tradition that stems from the ancient Germanic Yule celebration is the Yule goat (Julbocken). Just like the boar was associated with Freyr, the goat was connected to the hammer-wielding god Thor, who rode a chariot pulled by two goats named Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr.

The present-day Yule goat in Scandinavian and Northern European countries is a popular Christmas ornament made of straw and bound with red ribbons. Large versions of a traditional Yule goat are frequently erected in cities and towns. This tradition began in the Swedish city of Gävle in the 1960s, where the goat has become a symbol for the city.

Some Neopagan movements have revived the ancient celebration of Yule, although different Neopagan groups celebrate it in different ways. Some try to stay as close as possible to what they believe are the ancient German traditions, while others observe the holiday with rituals found in different sources and don’t go for historical accuracy. Wiccans, for example, celebrate the day of winter solstice as the rebirth of the Horned God, the consort of the Triple Goddess.

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Yule, Yuletide, winter solstice, midwinter festival, folk festival, pagan festival