AskDefine | Define yule

The Collaborative Dictionary

Yule \Yule\ ([=u]l), n. [OE. yol, [yogh]ol, AS. ge['o]l; akin to ge['o]la December or January, Icel. j[=o]l Yule, Ylir the name of a winter month, Sw. jul Christmas, Dan. juul, Goth. jiuleis November or December. Cf. Jolly.] Christmas or Christmastide; the feast of the Nativity of our Savior. [1913 Webster] And at each pause they kiss; was never seen such rule In any place but here, at bonfire, or at Yule. --Drayton. [1913 Webster] Yule block, or Yule log, a large log of wood formerly put on the hearth on Christmas eve, as the foundation of the fire. It was brought in with much ceremony. Yule clog, the yule log. --Halliwell. W. Irving. [1913 Webster]

Word Net

Yule n : period extending from Dec. 24 to Jan. 6 [syn: Christmas, Christmastide, Christmastime, Yuletide, Noel]



  1. amusement
    dushu shi wo de yule zhiyi. — "Reading is one of my amusements."
Yule is a winter festival historically celebrated primarily in northern Europe but now celebrated in many other countries in various forms. Yule celebrations often coincide with Christmas. Modern Yule traditions include decorating a fir or spruce tree, burning a Yule log, hanging mistletoe and holly branches, giving gifts, and general celebration and merriment.
The Germanic peoples celebrated Yule from late December to early January on a date determined by the lunar Germanic calendar. When the Julian calendar was adopted in northern Europe, Yule was placed on December 25 to correspond with the date of Christmas. Colloquially the terms "Yule" and "Christmas" are often used interchangeably.


The modern English word Yule likely derives from the word yoole, from 1450, which developed from the Old English term geōl and geōla before 899. The term has been linked to and may originate from the Old Norse Jōl, which refers to a Germanic pagan feast lasting 12 days that was later Christianized into Christmas.
In Old English geōla meant "December". The ancient Anglo-Saxon calendar had two "tides" of 60 day periods: "Litha Tide", roughly equivalent to modern June and July, and "Giuli Tide" to December and January. The remaining months were lunar 29-day periods—the New Year began with the second half of that tide, also known as "Wulfmonath".
A 12-day period between the two halves—or "monaths"—became the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas. With the return to the Latin-based calendar through the invading Normans, the definition narrowed to mean Christmas day only in the combined Christian Norman and Anglo-Saxon England.
Jól may derive from Old Norse hjól, wheel, referring to the moment when the wheel of the year is at its low point, ready to rise again (compare to the Slavic karachun). This theory seems based more on similarities between the words jul and hjul (with a mute h) in modern Scandinavian languages, than on older cognates or historical sources. The Old English form Geohhol may connect to the word to Latin jocus.
In the Scandinavian Germanic languages, the term Jul covers both Yule and Christmas, and is occasionally used to denote other holidays in December, such as jødisk jul or judisk jul, meaning "Jewish Yule" for Hanukkah. Neighboring Finnic languages borrow the word to denote Christmas, Finnish as joulu and Estonian as jõul.

Ancient traditions

Yule celebrations at the winter solstice predate Christianity. Yule is a feast celebrated by sacrifice on mid winter night 12 January, according to Norwegian historian Olav Bø. There are many references to Yule in the Icelandic sagas but few accounts of how Yule was celebrated beyond the fact it was a time for feasting. According to Adam of Bremen, Swedish kings sacrificed male slaves every ninth year during the Yule sacrifices at the Temple at Uppsala. 'Yule-Joy' with dancing continued through the Middle Ages in Iceland but was frowned upon after the Reformation. The ritual of slaughtering a boar on Yule survives in the modern tradition of the Christmas ham and the Boar's Head Carol.
''On Yule Eve the best boar in the herd was brought into the hall where the assembled company laid their hands upon the animal and made their unbreakable oaths. Heard by the boar these oaths were thought to go straight to the ears of Freyr himself. Once the oaths had been sworn the boar was sacrificed in the name of Freyr and the feast of boar flesh began. The most commonly recognised remnant of the sacred boar traditions once common at Yule has to be the serving of the boar's head at later Christmas feasts''.
According to the medieval English writer the Venerable Bede, Christian missionaries sent to proselytize among the Germanic peoples of northern Europe were instructed to superimpose Christian themes upon existing local pagan holidays, to ease the conversion of the people to Christianity by allowing them to retain their traditional celebrations. Thus, Christmas was created by associating stories of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the central figure of Christianity, with the existing pagan Yule celebrations, similar to the formation of Halloween and All Saint's Day via Christianization of existing pagan traditions.
The confraternities of artisans of the 9th century, which developed into the medieval guilds, were denounced by Catholic clergy for their "conjurations" when they swore to support one another in coming adversity and in business ventures. The occasions were annual banquets on December 26,
"feast day of the pagan god Jul, when it was possible to couple with the spirits of the dead and with demons that returned to the surface of the earth... Many clerics denounced these conjurations as being not only a threat to public order but also, more serious in their eyes, satanic and immoral. Hincmar, in 858, sought in vain to Christianize them."

Contemporary traditions

Many symbols and motifs associated with the modern holiday of Christmas derive from traditional pagan northern European Yule celebrations. The burning of the Yule log, the decorating of Christmas trees, the eating of ham, the hanging of boughs, holly, mistletoe and others are all historically practices associated with Yule. When the Christianization of the Germanic peoples began, missionaries found it convenient to provide a Christian reinterpretation of popular pagan holidays such as Yule and allow the celebrations themselves to go on largely unchanged, versus trying to confront and suppress them. The Scandinavian tradition of slaughtering a pig at Christmas (see Christmas ham) is probably salient evidence of this. The tradition is thought to be derived from the sacrifice of boars to the god Freyr at the Yule celebrations. Halloween and aspects of Easter celebrations are likewise assimilated from northern European pagan festivals.
English historian Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum contains a letter from Pope Gregory I to Saint Mellitus, who was on his way to England to conduct missionary work among the pagan Anglo-Saxons. Pope Gregory suggested that converting heathens would go easier if they were allowed to retain the outward forms of their traditional pagan practices and traditions, while recasting those traditions spiritually towards the Christian God instead of to their pagan "devils": "to the end that, whilst some gratifications are outwardly permitted them, they may the more easily consent to the inward consolations of the grace of God".


On the eve of the Finnish Joulu, children are visited by Joulupukki, a character similar to Santa Claus. The word Joulupukki means "Yule Goat" and probably derives from an old Finnish tradition where people called nuuttipukkis dressed in goat hides circulated in homes after Joulu, eating leftover food. Joulupukki visits people's homes and rides a sleigh pulled by a number of reindeer. He knocks on the front door during Jouluaatto, rather than sneaking in through the chimney at night. When he comes in, his first words are usually "Onkos täällä kilttejä lapsia?", "Are there (any) good (well behaving) children here?". Presents are given and opened immediately. He usually wears red, warm clothes and often carries a wooden walking stick. His workshop is in Korvatunturi, Lapland, Finland, rather than in the North Pole like Santa Claus, or on Greenland. He is married to Joulumuori (tr. Mother Yule). Typical Finnish yule dishes include ham, various root vegetable casseroles, beetroot salad, gingerbread and star-shaped plum-filled pastries. Other traditions with a non-Christian yule background include joulukuusi ("Uule spruce") and joulusauna ("yule sauna").


The main Jul event for Norwegians is on Julaften (Tr:Yule Eve) on December 24th, when the main feast is served and gifts are exchanged. The family traditionally eat ribbe (pork ribs) or pinnekjøtt, with rice pudding for dessert, often with a scalded almond and a price for the finder. Almost all Norwegian breweries produce traditional beer, juleøl (Yule Ale), and a special soda, julebrus (Tr: Yule Brew). Jul dishes are also served on Julebord (Tr:Yule Table), where people from work gather in early December to feast and drink alcoholic beverages. Traditionally, the mother of the house bakes seven types of cookies, julekaker. In the tradition called Julebukk or Nyttårsbukk, children dress up in costumes, visit neighbours, singing Christmas carols and receiving candy, nuts and clementines. They do this any day between Julaften and New Year's Eve. In older times in some areas, primarily Setesdalen, adults commonly went from house to house drinking, an event called Toftirus, "12-day high", during 12 days surrounding Christmas eve. Although it is now only practiced by a tiny minority and is unknown to most of Norway, this tradition apparently developed into today's Drammebukk, where adults dress up later in the evening, visit neighbors and receive drinks.


In Denmark, Jul is celebrated on December 24, which is called Juleaftensdag (Juleaften for Christmas Eve specifically). An elaborate dinner is eaten with the family, consisting of roast pork, roast duck or roast goose with potatoes, red cabbage and gravy. For dessert is rice pudding, traditionally with an almond hidden inside. The lucky finder of this almond is entitled to a small gift. After the meal is complete, the family gather around the Juletræ and sing Christmas carols. Then the children often hand out the presents which are opened immediately. This is followed by candy, chips, various nuts, clementines, and sometimes a mulled and spiced wine with almonds and raisins called Gløg is served hot in small cups.
yule in Old English (ca. 450-1100): Gēola
yule in Czech: Yule
yule in Danish: Jul
yule in German: Julfest
yule in Esperanto: Julo
yule in Spanish: Fiesta de Yule
yule in Finnish: Joulu
yule in French: Yule
yule in Icelandic: Jól
yule in Italian: Yule
yule in Japanese: ユール
yule in Dutch: Joelfeest
yule in Norwegian Nynorsk: Jul
yule in Norwegian: Jul
yule in Polish: Jul
yule in Portuguese: Yule
yule in Russian: Йоль
yule in Scots: Yuil
yule in Simple English: Yule
yule in Swedish: Jul
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