Fun Etymology Tuesday – Buck (but really, its about julbocken)

The first Tuesday of December and Norway is definitely showing its winter-y side! So, today, let’s immerse ourselves in Christmas-related etymology!

Today’s word is buck!

From c. 1300, this word has come to mean male deer in English, but before that, it referred to a male goat. The word comes from Old English bucca, meaning male goat, from Proto-Germanic *bukkon.

The Proto-Germanic word may have come from PIE *bhugo, which is also said to be the source of Avestan buza “buck, goat”, and Armenian buc “lamb”. Some, however, say that it might be from a lost pre-Germanic language.

Fairly straight-forward etymology, really, unless you want to look very closely into the lost pre-Germanic idea. So why am I telling you about a buck as a Christmas-related word?

Well, as you may know by now, I’m from Sweden.

In Sweden, Julbocken (often translated as the Yule Goat as English has mostly lost the word buck in reference to a male goat) has a very long history.

Julbocken goes back to ancient Pagan traditions, potentially connecting with ancient Proto-Slavic beliefs. The god honored in these beliefs was Devac (or Dazbog), who was represented by a white goat. The festivities therefore always included a person dressed as a goat, who demanded offerings in the form of presents.

Eventually, though, julbocken became the giver of gifts rather than the recipient, and this actually remained the case in the Scandinavian countries until as late as the second half of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century, when it was replaced by Father Christmas/Santa Claus.

But, it remains a very popular ornament in Scandinavian countries and in my own native country, a massive julbock called Gävlebocken is built up in the city of Gävle every year.

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Gävlebocken

In a traditional prank (that tends to get on people’s nerves), it is usually lit on fire soon after its unveiling.

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However sad that is, now, you know the story of buck and julbocken!

I hope that you enjoyed that little piece of Christmas-related history, because every week until Christmas, Fun Etymology will give you one Christmas-related word and tell you about its history!

Is there a Christmas-related word that you’ve always wondered where it came from? Let me know! (One can never have too much inspiration in life!)

Until next time!

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