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Yule Celebrations

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Yule is synonymous with Christmas but is actually a different festival. Learn more about its celebrations.

Yule is a traditional winter festival in Northern Europe. This festival was celebrated even before Christianity came into existence. Yule was generally celebrated in late December or early January. This date was determined according to the lunar calendar.

As Christianity started to gain prominence in the region, the Julian calendar replaced the lunar calendar. As per this calendar, Yule was given a specific date i.e. December 25. This was to ensure that it coincided with the Christian celebrations, which was later called Christmas. This is why Yule and Christmas are often used interchangeably, even though they are different festivals.

Yule Celebrations in Ancient Times

Traditionally, the Yule festival marks the winter solstice (shortest day of the year). Most literature on Yule celebrations has been lost and not much is known about the festive practices. Yule was generally celebrated with great feasts. This is largely because no agricultural work was carried out during the coldest of the winter months, leaving people time to make elaborate preparations. Yule celebrations involved thanking the gods for a good harvest and praying for good farming conditions in the coming season.

With the introduction of Christianity, its advocates found it easier to reinterpret traditional festivals such as Yule, as per the Christian faith. Therefore, instead of suppressing the celebrations, they were given a Christian feel. This is why many Yule traditions are now a part of Christmas celebrations. This includes practices like displaying the Christmas tree, burning the Yule log, hanging mistletoe and holly, consuming Christmas ham, etc.

Yule Celebrations in Modern Times

Most North European countries still celebrate Yule. The date for Yule may either be December 25 or the winter solstice date, which is generally December 22. The official date for Yule in most countries is December 25, since the majority follow the Christian faith. Winter solstice celebrations are mainly unofficial, though this is the major festival for people who follow other religions. Across north European countries, Yule celebrations have many common characteristics. At the same time, each country also has its own unique traditions.


In Finland, Yule is referred to as 'Joulu'. On the eve of Yule, the Joulupukki visits homes, to give gifts to the children. He is the Finnish version of Santa Claus and his name literally means Yule Goat. He is named after people called nuuttipukkis, who wore clothing made of goat hides. These people would visit homes after Joulu, to eat whatever food was left over.

The Joulupukki, however, is more closely related to the modern Santa Claus. He wears warm, red-coloured clothing and carries a walking stick with him. He will knock on the door of the house, on the previous evening. When he enters the home, he will call out 'Are there any good children here?' When the children respond, he will distribute gifts to them, which are usually opened immediately.

A variety of dishes is prepared during Yule. These include ham, preparations containing root vegetables, beetroot salad, plum pastries, and gingerbread. In Finland, it is also customary for people to visit a sauna on Christmas day.


In Norway, Yule is called as 'Jul'. For Norwegians, the main celebrations are on December 24. On the evening of this day, a grand meal is served and gifts are exchanged. Breweries in Norway make a special beer, called juleol, and a type of soda known as julebrus. In every house, the mother bakes seven types of julekaker or cookies for the feast.

Norway has another tradition called Julebukk. Every evening between December 24 and December 31, children dress up in fancy clothes and visit their neighbour's homes. Here, they are given candy, chocolates, and nuts. Later on, adults too dress up and visit houses, though they are served alcoholic beverages, rather than sweets.


In Denmark too, Yule is called Jul. On the eve of Yule, a feast dinner is eaten, comprising roast pork or goose, red cabbage, and gravy. Dessert consists of a rice pudding, which contains an almond hidden in it. Whoever finds the almond receives a present. After the dinner, family members gather around the Christmas tree to sing carols. Then, family members distribute gifts to one another.

Because of its connection with Christmas, Yule festivities are gradually becoming popular in other parts of the world. It is to be expected, since Yule and Christmas are already considered one festival.

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Did you know that Yule is different from Christmas? Have you heard of any other Yule traditions? How similar are Yule celebrations to those of Christmas where you live?
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