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What Does 'Yule' Mean?

"Yule" is related to the Old Norse word “jul,” a festival of the winter solstice celebrated by Anglo-Saxons and Scandinavians.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
A yule log

Today, we’re going to get into the Christmas spirit by talking about the word “Yule.”

You’ve probably heard this word hundreds of times. “The Christmas Song,” for example, celebrates “Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” suggests we “Make the Yuletide gay.” 

You can even spend hours in front of the TV, watching the virtual “Yule log” on YouTube. We get that. We’ve done it too.

In any case, what does “Yule” mean?

Yule Means 'Christmas'

This word is a synonym for Christmas. If you wish people “Yuletide greetings,” you’re wishing them “Christmas greetings.” And that weird ending? That’s just an old-fashioned way of saying “time.” “Yuletide” means “Yuletime.”

The roots of “Yule” go back a long way. It comes from the Old English word “geol,” which referred to Christmas day or the Christmas season.

It’s also related to the word “geola,” which referred to the months of December and January. A seventh-century monk known as “the Venerable Bede” is the first recorder of this word. He described how the ancient Angles, a Germanic tribe who settled in Great Britain in the 5th century, divided the year into two halves, defined by the solstices. They called the month before winter solstice “Aerra geola” and the month after it “Aeftera Geola.” (10)

(By the way, in case you didn’t know, the summer solstice is the longest day of the year. It occurs on June 21 or June 22 in the northern hemisphere. After that, days get shorter and night gets longer. The winter solstice occurs on December 21 or 22, again in the northern hemisphere, and it’s the shortest day of the year. After that, the days get longer and the nights get shorter. For the southern hemisphere, flip those around.)

Many Christmas Traditions Started as 'Jul' Traditions

This leads us further into the history of “Yule.” You see, this word is also related to the Old Norse word “jul.” Jul was a festival of the winter solstice celebrated by Anglo-Saxons and Scandinavians. In the northern parts of Europe where they lived, the winter sun rises as late as 11 am and sets just a few hours later. We can only imagine how oppressive that darkness was without electric lights. Jul was a celebration of—literally—brighter days to come.

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