Jól versus Christmas

By Eva Þuríđardóttir


Ek an Jólum.

I love everything aboutJól/Yule – the smells the feast the cold air and most of all I love the snow! The first fall of snow each winter is not only an event, it's a magical event here in the North; the snow spreads over everything and some náttúrvættir (nature spirits) go to sleep for a while. They hibernate so to speak. It then becomes very quiet and peaceful outside for the völva, and she loves that as much as she loves the sounds the náttúrvættir make when waking up in springtime.

Jólnir was one of Óðinns many names, however, before talking about Jólnir/Jól/Yule, I want to explain a few things about the origins of the word Jól and why it is not the same as Christmas.

The word Christmas/kristnimessa or kristnihátið simply means “the mas of the Christians” or “Christian feast”.

The word Jól is far older, Jul/Yul for the Danes and the Swedes, and now also the Norwegians, and Joulu for the Finns. Icelanders still use the word Jól. In old english it was éole, which is pronounced the same way as Jól. Now éole has become the word Yule as we know it today.

Enough said about words, lets get back to Jólnir and Jólablót.

Mörsugi, the month of Jól by the old Icelandic calendar, started the 12th of December and ended at the 12th of January, with the days varying between years though. In Iceland and Norway, even to this day, people celebrate Jól by giving a feast called Jólablót. It is the celebration of the rising sun. It means for us that now the days will start to get longer again. It's called December Solstice, or here in the north, we called it Winter Solstice. 

Even though Nordic countries today may be called by some Christian countries, we were never really fully Christianized. In fact, Christianization was done in name only. I will tell about the Christianization of Iceland in details another day. Iceland, though, was the last country in Europe to formally adopt Christianity, and the only country that did so arbitrarily, as a political move, and in name only.

I will also tell you in the upcoming weeks about the Jólasveinar/Yulelads, the sons of the trolls Grýla and Lepalúði, and the Jólaköttur/Yulecat, as well as other Norse Yule traditions.

(Illustration is Ullr, god of archery, carrying a Christmas tree he cut with his axe while pillaging a church)