Jól (Yule): The Norse Winter Holiday

Jól (Yule): The Norse Winter Holiday


Hi, I’m Dr. Jackson Crawford, I’m an old Norse specialist who teaches at the University of Colorado, Boulder It’s been an unusually warm December here in Colorado . In fact it’s December 17th or something as I’m filming this and the snow has only just fallen for the first time this year. Many cultures have a celebration during the time of year around the end of December when the days began to get longer again. And the Norse are no exception. Their holiday was called «Jól» , which also survives in the form of an English word ‘‘Yule’’ which is cognate with the Norse word In the modern Scandinavian countries the word has become «Jul» other than in Modern Icelandic where the word is still «Jól». This is a plural word and actually refers to a ceremony that took place over the course of three nights. Beginning with Midwinter Night (so December 21st or 22nd by our reckoning) and then continuing the next three nights We know that the festival contained a lot of feasting and drinking although the specific actions that might have been undertaken are not so clear to us because our main sources from Norse mythology such as the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda talk about myths narratives and stories but very rarely about things like rituals and festivals and prayers However, we can gain some hints by looking at some of the sagas in which Jól is celebrated such as «Hákonar saga góða» the saga of Håkon the Good : one of the kings of Norway. Now Håkon the Good was king of Norway in the mid nine hundreds and he was a Christian. But he was not insistent about his religion. He wasn’t a missionary. He was fine with some of his people remaining pagan. He only insisted that everyone in the kingdom celebrate a holiday in late December Whether that was Christmas or Yule didn’t matter But he did stipulate legally that there was a minimum amount of alcohol that had to be consumed by each free man to demonstrate that he was celebrating one of the holidays and whereas measurements in the sagas are not always very clear or very strictly defined this amount as near as I can figure would be about four gallons over the course of those three nights so a pretty considerable amount Leading to the only culture I’m aware of in which you might have been pulled over by the cops for drinking too little. Now we also know that horse meat was apparently a big part of this festival. For instance in the Saga of Håkon the Good he attends a Yule Festival thrown by one of his pagan subjects and they insist at this feast that Håkon eat some of the meat of the horse : the horse’s liver specifically. Håkon is very unwilling to do this apparently because it’s part of a pagan ceremony but after a while with the help of a sympathetic pagan follower he strikes a compromise and he simply inhales the smoke off of the cooked horse liver giving a new meaning to ‘‘who inhaled?’’. Theres a moose down there by the creek. I don’t think I could show to you with the With as small as it would look on this camera but that’s cool. Well the sacrifice of horses of course is something that we know was important in the practice of Norse religion based on the testimony of numerous different sagas as well as external sources and the witness of archeology. Now the swearing of oaths was also apparently important during the Yule Festival Many sagas feature oaths being sworn at this time and of course in this culture the oath is an Ironbound thing no matter what, right, I mean so already many of these central conflicts of the Norse Sagas center around someone’s Ironbound oath that ends up being a bad idea it has to be fulfilled anyway. Like Brunhild’s oath she would never marry a man who knew fear. Or Ragnar Lothbrok’s oath that he would conquer England with just two ships. But an oath sworn on Yule was extra sacred. Now this may remind you a little bit of New Year’s resolutions, right, these are similarly oaths that are supposed to have a special force because they’re sworn at about this time of year but in this case since oaths were taken so seriously in this culture you have to think of it like a New Year’s resolution that you could be punished by death for not fulfilling. So if the idea of swearing that you’re going to lose 10 pounds by March sounds like a good idea and you think that you’d be a little extra motivated if someone could kill you in March if you know they broke into your house made you stand on a scale and you hadn’t lost 10 pounds then perhaps you could try something similar. Sagas such as Hervarar Saga ok Heiðreks and Sturlaugs Saga starfsama feature oaths sworn at a Yule feast and in both of these cases the oath sworn is about marrying or sexually conquering in some other way a woman and so Yule feast may have had in a special association with that kind of oath. One interesting thing in particular is that uh oaths at least in one manuscript of Hervarar Saga ok Heiðreks and in one of the the poems about Helgi in the poetic Edda (which I’ll also talk about a little bit more in a minute) involve touching a boar that is brought into the proceedings in order to make these oaths. Like swearing on a Bible but swearing on a pig. So in the Poetic Edda there are three poems about the hero named Helgi In one of these Helgakviða Hjovarðssonar, the Saga of Helgi son of Hjovarð (the one that does not connect into the Volsung family) says that an evening before Jól his brother Héðinn was riding and he encountered a woman who was either a troll or witch, riding a wolf using snakes for reins this is also something we see at Baldr’s funeral and in some art from the Viking Age this is this trope of evil women riding wolves using snakes as reins. And she asked if she could go along with him for a while, and he refused but when he refused her she said that he would pay for this that night when men were swearing their oaths at Jól because this was Jól Eve Well he goes in to the feast at Jól and a boar is brought in and men are swearing their oaths and Heðin under the influence of a curse this woman has put on him puts his hand on the boar and swears that he will take his brother Helgi’s lover Sváva Well rather than fulfill this oath, which of course he’s obligated to fulfill if he remains in the kingdom he leaves. Goes into self-imposed exile but some time later his brother Helgi tracks him down and asks him why he fled. Heðin tells him about his oath but Helgi says actually this is convenient I’m about to fight a duel and I know that I might die and if I die I would rather leave Sváva to my brother than wonder about where she’s going to end up perhaps fall into the hands of my enemies He says something interesting at the beginning of stanza 33 here Sakask eigi þú sǫnn munu verða ǫlmál, Heðinn, okkr beggja. Don’t worry about it, basically. The words spoken while drinking are oaths made while drinking ǫlmál will be true Heðin for us both So oaths made while drinking especially during Yule are especially important. Especially sacred and during this winter season I’m hoping that your oaths and resolutions prove good and true. And I hope that whatever holiday you celebrate as the as the days get longer and the night’s get shorter that it’s a wonderful holiday full of joy and peace for you And from beautiful Colorado I’m wishing you Gleðileg Jól!

100 thoughts on “Jól (Yule): The Norse Winter Holiday

  1. There's an old Scottish myth that says you want a dark haired stranger to be the first across your doorway in the 'new year', is there any basis for that in Norse history? BTW, bought both of your new Edda books, very satisfied…though a bit disappointed in Tolkien now.

  2. 1.5million views! Congratulations. Im as poor as dirt so id like to thank you for doing all of this. So refreshing to have a professional talk on these subjects.

  3. In more recent folklore Cheistmas was the most dangrous time of year, with tons of evil spirits and saying about death. Would be interesting to know the origin of that.

  4. I wish your channel becomes the leading source for Norse mythology on YouTube, it certainly is the best. Most won't cite their sources properly like you do.

  5. Almost summer solstice here in upside down world…..I always have to wait 6 months for these types of videos to be relevant :/ . I always appreciate them though, thanks.

  6. I'm sure after drinking all that alcohol during Jól, plenty of people saw trolls riding wolves while using snakes for reins. And I'm sure they were the prettiest darn trolls they ever did see. God Jul to all, bring over another flagon, and pass the horsemeat! 😉

  7. Hi Dr Crawford
    Is there any chance you could translate this sentance" and they came from the sea like a north wind and froze the blood of weaker men" into norse runes please. It would be deeply appreciate
    Wish you a merry Christmas
    Σοφία

  8. you forgot to mention that in the Saga of Håkon The Good, he moves the heathen Jól celebration from midwinter in the middle of january to the same time as the christians celebrate, så where do you get "December 21"?

  9. Great video. I enjoyed the moose, the jokes and the subject 😉 Would this have been mead they were drinking? If so, one would have to drink a lot of mead to in order to reach the proper level of inebriation for Yule! I see modern day Christmas as a confluence between Saturnalia, Yule (and other pre-Christian religions) and Christianity. In some ways, there continues to be a somewhat tenuous balance between being civilized and raucous. Holiday movies like Office Holiday Party echo and continue to celebrate humanity's relationship with Yule/Saturnalia.

  10. Well, if it's unseasonably warm, you know Ragnarok is a long way off…merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, and god Jul to all! Now I'll just hop back on my wolf and fly away!

  11. Informative video and Happy Yule. Since I live in a major city, wild boars are hard to come by. However, I have a wild boar bar from epic provisions, that I can swear my oaths on. 🙂 
    And I’m not doing the horse meat.

  12. I raise my horn and tip my hat to you. Hope you enjoy the holidays and season. Do your best to drink your share of the Jo’l Meade and ales. Thanks for sharing your passion.

  13. The swearing of oaths and the seduction of women? I wonder if that's why traditionally couples get engaged at Christmas time.

  14. jól would actually not be pronounced with a normal "L", but instead with a welsh double-L. That being said, you would have an ugly hiss at the end of the word instead of an L noise.

  15. Well, if my forefathers and their gang drank during Jultiden as much as we're told it's no wonder it was a bit hazy to everyone: what really happened, how long it lasted and so on.

  16. woman(hel) riding a wolf(fenrir) with snake a snake as reigns (jormungandr), thats all of lokis offspring lol

  17. I begin every Christmas morning with a glass of champagne & a chocolate. This New Years Day I made a proclamation on a carousel horse to be like a unicorn riding a rainbow and sealed it with a local craft beer. So far its panning out. Don't know if this counts as jol, but it's prob as close as I'll get. 💖

  18. Thank you so much for doing these videos, I so enjoy listening to them, much appreciated. Hugs & sunshine 🌞 N

  19. Where can we read about the law Haakon made and his story about eating horse meat? It's sad that Google often doesn't give me the answer to these kind of things. Have to say the more I dig into things the more I realize how useless Google actually is. And how hard it is to find primary sources for things on the internet.

  20. Seems I'm a little early this year but I'm taking out my Yuletide decorations. A few years ago a pair of Wiccans tried to destroy my holiday decorations for being too "Christian" even though Finnish Yuletide traditions are somewhat closer to those of pre-Christian times than the Wiccan ones…and they also objected to my serving meat and dairy products so I can relate to whoever prepared that horsemeat for King Hokon and then had to sit there while he refused to eat it!

  21. Thank you young man. I purchased your book for my husband for Christmas. He likes Norse anything, I'm a language major and have a budding linguist 15 yo. We live in Athens-Clarke. Do you ever come back here? I would love to see you speak.

  22. Wherecan I find 4 gallons of mead that doesn't taste like otter pish? Iwantmead that tastes like summer flowers, like honey, like Love! Grrr, says the Badger, all before me is swill, not fit for scrylings. I swear on the year of the boar that I shall make this nectar of the Gods by Jul next. You are all invited to feast with me, but please bring presents.

  23. I’m a little confused on the dates there, I thought Jol was about ten days? Is it more focused on just the 21st – 23rd? Maybe you can help me out or maybe a fellow youtuber. Appreciate it!

  24. Fyi this story will be a bit long and is kinda just me explaining my stuff a tad bit. So my mother tried raising my siblings and i christian, i would go to church every now and then with my parents and more often with my grandparents, those grandparents are from my brother and sisters side (same mom different dad) they always treated me like there own with no problems, well when i was about 10-12 they had stopped taking me to church and i was already sick of Christianity because i never felt connected or like my prayers were real, so i started to follow the atheist path that my brother was, started to listen to heavy metal which introduced me to norse music (well celtic first) thats when my brother told me that we have viking blood in us. So i started to look that up for fun, found the gods and went with it, my brother stayed atheist for a few more years, got baptized for a girl (he regrets it now, she was just stringing him along to become a Mormon) then i showed him my views and basically converted him, this made those "christian" grandparents hate us, they still wanted to see him after he joined the army as he was home only once every year, yet they saw me only when he was around, very strange huh? Anyhow hes since had his own experiences with the gods and so have i, i will tell of two experiences, one was after i prayed to odin (for some reason i always run to him with every prayer) i prayed for ones protection as i was worried about her and couldnt help her, about 10 seconds after i ended the prayer i saw a raven land on my fence look at me with something black in its mouth, it was round and like a marble, could have bin a coincidence but who knows. The second happened just a few weeks ago, i was camping with family to celebrate my grandmothers life and my leather strap on my Mjolnir pendant broke so i left it in my bag so i wouldnt lose it (i only take it off when i shower or swim) thats when it started raining and lightening. I saw something, i know i saw it, it was real, i dont believe it was a coincidence, i saw what looked like a man in the clouds with a horned helmet on a chariot being pulled by three horned animals, it was a cloud as well but not like your average cloud, i know this sounds fake but i swear to all of the gods that it is true, i thought to take a picture but decided not to and i dont know why. I went back, got a shoelace and tied to pedant back on then about 10 minutes later it stopped raining. I believe it was a god. Lastly its bin my life long dream to join the military to go into combat, ever since i was 2 years old, i didnt even know vikings were a thing then, i swore to odin (it wasnt yule) that if he or any other god could help me join that mt first 10 kills would be for him. I know i know it sounds crazy but thats just the thing, iv always felt this way, i dont want to hurt innocent people i just want to be a soldier and get rid of the bad ones, more people feel this way, almost all of my friends do as well, some of my family does, people like jocko wilink, tim kennedy and marcus luttrell feel the same way, they have admitted it on camera. Anyhow thats my bit.

  25. So glad the good doctor is able to film all his vids in somewhere so beautiful. That office was so drab and depressing.

  26. We are still Celebrating this in my Family. Also learned how to use a Sword from my Uncle. This year will be Mead and Vodka for my Jól.

  27. Plus, those who died and were oath breakers were also known to die by their own weapons in battle, and their soul was said to forever be chewed on by a dragon.

  28. Okay i paused the video rite away and I just want to say, I did not expect this video to be done by a cowboy with a cowboy hat and an accent but you knnow what, I trust this sombitch

  29. I've only just began doing some research about Norse mythology and history. I am of Finnish decent and have noticed that often times when people are talking about Scandinavian culture they leave Finland out. Is there a reason for this?

  30. Swearing Oaths by touching a boar? That makes sense because boars are sacred to Freyja so I think the idea was having Freyja be a witness to the trothing.

  31. In the Scandinavian countries we have a tradition of having a Julebord/Julbord/Julefrokost in the days before Christmas. This is a kind of feast or banquet where traditional Christmas food and alcoholic beverages are served. Many Julebord are characterized by large amounts of food and drink, both traditional and new, hot and cold dishes. There is often lively partying and the party can sometimes be too much of a good thing with far too much drunkenness (ie people drink too much beer and aquavit).

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