The lyric from “Deck the Halls” goes “Troll the ancient yuletide carol.” Amidst all the fa-la-la-ing, did you ever ask yourself exactly what yule is?
While some people use the word as a synonym for Christmas, there’s more to Yule than the goings on that happen on December 25th.
What is yule?
Yule is the ancient name in the Germanic lunar calendar for a winter festival corresponding to December and January. Later, yule referred to the 12-day holiday associated with the Feast of the Nativity after the widespread adoption of Christianity through Northern Europe.
The word has Gothic origins, but English speakers are most familiar with yule through associations dating to its original use. For example, the yule log, as in the lyric “See the blazing yule before us,” was originally a real tree limb or trunk, but now makes an appearance at Christmastime as a cake shaped like a log.
Yule also carries associations with a farm animal. The Yule Goat carried Father Christmas on his back and is a symbol of Christmas throughout Scandinavian countries. The Yule Goat may have associations tracing back to Norse mythology. The now-famous comic book god Thor rode in a chariot pulled by two goats that could also be eaten and magically regenerate into living creatures again.
What is yuletide?
While Yule can refer to both Christmas itself and the season, yuletide references the season as a whole—essentially that period from early December to early January.
Most Americans associate yuletide with singing carols, a tradition in Northern Europe, also known as wassailing.
Want to know the meaning of some other Christmas carol-y words? Read along as we crack these Christmas carol codes.