Festive Etymology Tuesday – Yule

It’s that time of the week again, friends! Time for our weekly appointment with the history of words.

Christmas is coming! Do you hear that chiming sound? Do you feel that warm fuzzy feeling inside?
We certainly feel it: that’s why today we’ll be having a Festive Etymology.

Even though Christmas is a predominantly Christian festivity today, most of its traditions (the tree, gift giving, the stopping of all conflicts and many others) are actually much more ancient.
The tree, in particular, was an important symbol in the religion of the Germanic people, and the winter festival in which that tradition originated had a name which we can still hear from time to time: “Yule”.

The origins of the word “Yule” are shrouded in mystery. We know this word existed in Old English as “geól” (pronounced “yohl”), and in Old Norse as “jól”, and that it indicated both the festival and the month the festival was held in (modern-day December).

The word was eventually superseded by “Christmas” in English (from “Cristes Mæsse”, “Christ’s Mass”), but it remained in the Scandinavian languages, as well as Finnish, which borrowed it as “joulu” (whence their name for Santa, “Joulupukki”, literally “Old man Christmas”).

The word might have disappeared, but the spirit is still all there. So, on behalf of all of us at the HLC, Merry Yule and a Happy New Year!

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