Tis the season for clickbait articles about religious holidays. The “War on Christmas” morphs into “The Christians stole our traditions!” and then the blog posts and articles come out about the real origins of Yule and the meaning of various traditions. Today, five of these will be examined for historical and lore veracity.Myth #1 – Solstice was a universally important date

While we have evidence that many cultures did track the solar calendar, saying anything is a universal tradition is a logical fallacy. Both Christianity and Judaismare based on a lunar, not solar calendar. It was an important date to the pre-Christian Northern Europeans, as evidenced by Stonehenge and other monuments that are arranged as to track this date.

 

Myth #2 – Yule is a holiday that celebrates Thor defeating the Frost Giants

There is zero evidence in the lore that suggests Thor was honored at this time. There is some secondary evidence Freyr may have been honored due to the tradition of swearing oaths of fealty and good words over the Yule Boar. In the Saga of Hakon the good, there is a description of Yule blot that includes toasts drunk to Njord and Frey for “good harvests and peace,” to Odin “for victory and power to the king,” and memorial toasts to those who had died.

 

Myth #3 – Christmas was once Yule

It is true that in many regions, Christmas supplanted Yule as the winter holiday. The evidence we have that supports this and it is only in one specific kingdom. In the Saga of Hakon the Good, King Hakon I of Norway changed the date of Yule to coincide with Christmas. The stated reason was at first to have everyone celebrate at once, but was a part of the King’s plan to Christianize Norway.

However, Christmas was celebrated on or around December 25 several centuries before Christianity came to Northern Europe. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the date being set at December 25 can be traced back as far as the fourth century. While there is no explicitly written down reason as to why this date was picked, the book Towards the Origin of Christmas by Susan K. Roll explains that in Jewish belief at the time, a person dies on the same day they were conceived. It was generally accepted at the time that Jesus of Nazareth died on the same day the Earth was formed, which was the Spring Equinox, which was set at this time as March 25. The birth of Jesus of Nazareth was set at December 25 as this was 9 months after the conception date.

Myth #4 – The Yule Tree is a symbol of Yggdrasil

Trees being used for winter holidays can only reliably be traced back to the 16th Century. There are some Christian myths that tell of Saint Boniface cut down a tree dedicated to Thor and then told the locals that the Fir tree represented the Trinity in Christianity. The origin of using greenery for winter festivals is found in many cultures across the globe, including the Chinese, Hebrew, and Germanic cultures.

Myth #5 –  The 12 Days of Christmas is About Yule

The 12 Days of Christmas was written in the sixteenth century, well after Christianization.

 

Do you have any other Yule Myths you want debunked? Let us know!

Quotes from the Saga of Hakon the Good are from the Hollander translation

Photo credit Newyaki

Myths of Yule

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  1. Pertaining to myth number 2, what is the origin of all the Scandinavian goat symbolism at Yule then? Thor was generally seen as a (really THE) protector of humankind, and during the dark winter months with all of those mischievous spirits and undead roaming about, it sure seems like time we could use His protection. Thoughts?

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