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The Wild Hunt of Odin by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1872) (Public Domain)

The Man Who Was Wednesday: The Norse Origin of Christmas

Christmastide traditions are a glorious amalgamation of customs and practices that have been appropriated wholesale from other belief systems, primarily those of Ancient Rome. But Rome is only part of the story because over the centuries Christmas has also acquired a number of key traditions drawn from the pagan Germanic and later Norse peoples who dominated Western Europe in the years following the collapse of the Roman Empire. This connection is all the more pertinent this year as Christmas Day falls on a Wednesday.

Christmas with the Yule Log. Illustrated London News 23 December 1848 (Public Domain)

Christmas with the Yule Log. Illustrated London News 23 December 1848 (Public Domain)

Have a Cool Yule

Today the words Yule and Yuletide are frequently used as an alternative to Christmas or the Holiday Season. “Happy Holidays”, “Merry Christmas”, “Have a Cool Yule” are just slogans used on Christmas cards and gift tags without a thought to their origin. In brief, Yule was a midwinter festival celebrated by the Germanic peoples of post-Roman Europe, the people now called the Saxons (or Anglo-Saxons in Britain). There is linguistic evidence to suggest the concept of the Yule festivities dates as far back as the fourth century AD but given these were primarily pre-literate cultures who left behind no written records, its origins may be far, far older. Yule was later adopted by the Norse people of Scandinavia, the people better known as the Vikings – the Norse term was yulblót.


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Ancient Origins Quotations