YULE originally meant “(Feast of) Consecration” (of the land for a good harvest), “(Ritual of) Conjuration” of the magical, life-giving powers of the Earth and the dead ancestors within her, for a successful year in agriculture).

It derives from Proto-Germanic *jegwliaz/*jehwliaz (also *jegwla/*jehwla) “conjuration,” related to Latin jocus “joke,” Umbrian juka, juku “prayers,” Oscan juklei “in consecration,” Old High German jëhan, gëhan “asseverate,” bi-jëhan gi-jëhan, jihten “aver, confess, admit;  acknowledge, praise” (modern German beichten “confess one’s sins”), Welsh iaith “speech,” etc.

These words in turn all come from Proto-Indo-Germanic *yekw- “to speak solemnly” (“to say with intensity or solemnly.”)  The Proto-Germanic derivative, *jehw-a-, likewise meant “to utter solemnly.”  The “g” in *jegwliaz came from a voicing of the voiceless consonant “h,” which itself was pronounced like the “gu” in the name “Nicaragua” the way the Central Americans pronounce it - i.e., as what linguists call a “velar fricative,” not like the “g” in English good or in ginger.

Germanic cognates are:  Old English geola “Yule,” se aerra geola “the prior Yule,” “December,” se aefterra geola “the posterior Yule,” “January,” aeresta geohheldaeg “first Yule day,” “Christmas day,” Old Norse jól “Yule,” German Jul “Yule,” Gothic *jiula “Yule(tide)” in fruma jiuleis “pre-Yule,” “November” (in the Gothic Calendar of A.D. 400).

Ancient Germanic YULE was a midwinter feast lasting twelve days, from January 12/13 to 23/24, inclusive (i.e., starting with sunset on the 12th and ending with sunrise on the 24th):  Three great sacrifices were held yearly:  at Winter-day (October 14) sacrifice was offered for a good year;  at Mid-Winter (Yule) for a good harvest;  and at Summer-Day (April 14) for victory.”  (— From the Ynglinga Saga, chapter 8, in Peter Andreas Munch, Norse Mythology:  legends of Gods and Heroes, revised by Magnus Olsen, translated from the Norwegian by Sigurd Bernhard Hustvedt.  [New York:  The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1963.]).  According to Gísli Súrsson’s Saga (chapter 15), “the autumnal sacrifice [October 14] was offered to [the god] Frey to bid welcome to winter....” (ibid., p. 273.)  “It was also the custom to swear oaths and make vows by a boar every Yuletide Eve, laying one’s hand on the boar’s head and the other on the bristles of his neck.”  (Pp. 1140, 150).

“The heathen Yule seems among the Scandinavians to have been celebrated about three weeks later than Christmas;  but the Norse king Hakon, who had been brought up in Christian England, altered the time of the festival, so as to make it correspond with the English Yule or Christmas;  and so the heathen hökunótt came to represent our Christmas Eve” (Cleasby-Vígfússon, An Icelandic-English Dictionary, 309).

(Hökunótt, literally “hook-night,” i.e., the night on which the winter makes a “hook” toward summer, was the 12th of January, or midwinter night;  it became Scottish Hogmanay in Scotland, the Scottish word for New Year’s Eve, when children traditionally go from house to house asking for presents, cakes, &c.)

“It is however probable that the heathen feast [of Yule] was held a little later that the Christian [Christmas].  The heathen feast was a time of great merry-making, and tales of ghosts, ogres and satyrs were attached to it.”  (Cleasby-Vígfússon, 326)

Thus in later times, Yule, the midwinter Land-Consecration feast of twelve days, came to be celebrated from December 25 to January 5, inclusive, whence Old Norse þrettándi “the Thirteenth [and last day of Yule]” = Epiphany, the sixth of January, and British Twelfth-night “the Evening of January 5,” before Twelfth-day “the day of Epiphany,” January 6, twelve days after Christmas.

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Last modified Wed., 2012 Apr 04