If you have heard the word yule, it probably was in a song or verse related to Christmas, but the Yule time predates Christmas.
Modern Christians all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas, which falls on December 25. However, it is believed that this date was chosen to offset pagan celebrations of Saturnalia and Natalis Invicti. Yule is also known as Alban Arthan and was one of the “Lesser Sabbats” of the Wiccan year in a time when ancient believers celebrated the rebirth of the Sun God and days with more light.
For Christians, celebrating the birth of the “true light of the world” was appropriately set to synchronize with the December solstice because from that point onwards, the days have more daylight (at least in the in the northern hemisphere).
Christmas is sometimes referred to as Yule. The word “yule” may have derived from the Norse word jól or juul, referring to a pre-Christian winter solstice festival. This took place annually around the time of the December solstice and lasted for 12 days. (The Lesser Sabbats fall on the solstices and equinoxes.)
Yuletide comes from Yule + –tide (“period around a holiday”), from the Old English tīd (“time”)
The Feast of Juul was observed in Scandinavia at this winter solstice and fires were lit to symbolize the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun.
A Yule or Juul log was brought in and burned on the hearth in honor of the Scandinavian god Thor. A piece of the log was kept as both a token of good luck and as kindling for the following year’s log.
In England, Germany, France and other European countries, the Yule log was burned until nothing but ash remained. The ashes were then collected and either strewn on the fields as fertilizer every night until Twelfth Night or kept as a charm and or as medicine.
French peasants believed that if the ashes were kept under the bed, they would protect the house against thunder and lightning.
The present-day custom of lighting a Yule log at Christmas that is sometimes adorned with evergreens, holly and pine cones is believed to have originated in the bonfires associated with the Feast of Juul.
That Yule Log of cake that people buy in the stores is pure retail marketing. Thor would not be happy.
According to the Yule Blog, the Yule Goat is a Scandinavian tradition that predates the arrival of Christianity in Northern Europe. The goat was a symbol of the Norse god Thor, whose flying chariot was pulled by two goats.
When entertaining the other gods, Thor would kill his goats to feed his guests and then resurrect them afterwards, using his hammer Mjöllnir.
In Sweden, a Christmas custom based on this tale of Thor is still performed in the Juloffer, or Yule Sacrifice. Two actors sacrifice a third player dressed as a goat while singing a song, but at the end of the song, the goat is resurrected. Yule Goats are also made of straw both large and small as decorations.
The Yule Goat was once considered to be a bringer of gifts, but this role has been taken over by Father Christmas, who sometimes rides the Yule Goat.