Wondering about Yule

I was just wondering about “Yule”, and what is really known about it, what the ancient/medieval sources are.  Generally we hear jeering about it at Christmas, and that’s it. 

A look at the web suggests that no-one online knows anything about the subject.  Certainly those who talk about it don’t seem troubled as to what, if any, evidence there might be. 

It might be interesting to research and put online the primary sources, whatever they are.  When I feel more like it.


4 thoughts on “Wondering about Yule

  1. The earliest mention of Yule (in Latin: Giuli) is in Bede’s De temporibus. You can find the mention on page 178 of the following PDF: http://files.libertyfund.org/files/1917/0990.06_Bk_SM.pdf

    According to him, Yule was the name of the last Lunar month of Autumn and the first Lunar month of Winter, a two month long season.

    Interestingly enough, that season, Yuletide, just ended a few days ago.

    It coincides (usually) with the months of Kislev and Tevet in the Jewish calendar, and Audynaeus and Peritius in the old, pre-Roman, lunisolar calendar of the Greeks. During Yuletide, the Anglo-saxons celebrated a holidy called Modranicht (Mothers’ night) on December 25th, about which almost nothing is known. Some think that it was a celebration of some sisterhood of pagan dieties, others that it was just Christmas celebrated the way non-Christians celebrate Christmas. (Christmas is a major holiday in modern day Japan, for instance.)

  2. People probably get most of their ideas about it from Scandinavian sources (Jul). I don’t think I remember a Germanic version of the word, but I may just be ignorant… hmm. Yup, there’s Jul-monat in Old High Germanic.

    And anything spelled with a J was spelled with an I, back in the day, most likely. So really “Iiuli” and “Ieol” and “Iul.”

  3. Translated from the Swedish Wikipedia article on “Jul”:

    The word “jul” is of Germanic origin, but the origin further back is uncertain. A popular notion is that it comes from “wheel”, but linguists consider it a myth [Svenska Akademiens Ordbok]. The oldest mention of the word comes from the fragment Codex Ambrosianus A of the Gothic calendar that was written sometime in the 6th or 7th century AD. The fragment describes late October and early November. The month of November is overwritten with “Naubaimbair: Fruma Jiuleis”, which can be interpreted as “November: first Jul month” or “November: The month before Jul.” Approximately in 730 AD Bede wrote that the Anglo-Saxons calendar had the month “geola” or “giuli”, that may correspond to December or December and January. December 25th is the first day of the pagan new year and the Anglo-Saxons celebrate the night to the honour of the maternal gods.
    After the introduction of Christianity the Germans used the same word for the celebration of the birth of Jesus that was used in pagan celebrations. However, in the 1000’s in England and the 1100’s in Germany they began to call the Christian celebration by “Crister Mæsse” (Christ Mass), which became “Christmas”, and “wîhe nah” (sacred night), which became “Weihnachten”. In the Nordic countries they kept the word “jul”.
    By comparing different languages, the Proto-Germanic word has been reconstructed as *jehwla or *jxwla (x is pronounced here as a German “ach”). The word was borrowed early in the Finnish language whose pronunciation in comparison to the Germanic languages has changed very little over the past 2000 years: “Juhla” means “feast”. Later Finns borrowed the word again, “Joulu” meaning “Christmas”.

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