History of Yule
At its core, Yule was a festival for the Germanic people. That encompasses a broad group from what we would know as Germans, the Franks, Goths, Saxons, Frisians, Angles, and Scandinavians. Due to how broad Germanic culture is, a single Yule history is hard to nail down. However, what are some of the common components? How were they different between groups? To start, they all would have celebrated it in the Winter time. Specifically, during December. Although Yule was often a specific event, it also could be used to broadly refer to the month as a whole in Old English. Like with any feast, it was not uncommon for people celebrating Yule to drink, eat, sing, dance, and tell poems or stories. Though medieval monks were particular about recording a lot, even pagan material, much stuff related to the Yule is not as well-known as other pagan rituals, like the Wild Hunt, which some believe is related to the Yule. Nevertheless, we will go over what we do know.
The Old English seemingly had a related celebration known as Modraniht, the Night of Mothers. The monk Bede wrote that The Old English pagans celebrated it on December 25th...or January 8th, as he says, that is when they started their year. Either way, it was a Winter event of some kind. What did they do? We have no idea, but the name suggests some celebration related to a Goddess or a fertility festival.
But what about the Norse? They were also famous for writing a lot down. What did they have to say about Yule? In the Saga of Hervor and King Heidrek the Wise, we see a sign of a Yule boar and "oathtaking." First, we know that this is related to Yule, as the sagas explicitly mention it. Various folk at this time made various vows and oaths. Sometimes, this seemed done with the boar, which was then sacrificed. This ties the Yule Boar to history, but is the oath swearing related to New Year's Resolutions? Maybe! It is clear that the Norse documented their holiday better when compared to the English.
Yule has effectively ended in Germanic Europe, however, and has been replaced with Christmas. Wait, is Christmas an extension of Yule? Not really. Many of the Christmas customs are related to Christianity, and the coincidences to Yule are just that: coincidences. Despite that, some similarities are not without merit. The Scandinavian conversion to Christianity and the English conversion to Christianity was a major event that took centuries. Due to the significant Pagan population in Germanic countries, compromises had to be made. One primary reason why the two might be so closely linked is that Haakon the Good, a Christian King of Norway, decreed that Christmas and Yule be celebrated concurrently. He became a controversial figure in history due to this, among his other compromises with pagans, with some claiming he was actually a Pagan king. In reality, he was a king trying to balance the needs of two very different religious groups in his kingdom.
As you can see, Yule was once a major holiday that was strongly linked to the Winter solstice or midwinter time. Some of its practices, like a monthly sacrifice, have long left culture. Some have taken a winding path, like New Year's Resolutions, which may be related to Norse oathtaking during Yule. We hope you learned something from this article! Happy Holidays!