Ancient Origins of Yule

Recently I was asked to create a small exhibit at the Swedish Cultural Center to illustrate the ancient origins of Scandinavian Christmas traditions. Below are the tidbits I pulled together (only a few of which made it into the display). The objects in the display, owned by the Center, include beautiful weavings and Yule decorations such as a Julbok, a cheese press marked with an “x” to keep away evil, and a Christmas porridge bowl.

Update: There is a fascinating account of Christmas traditions in Sàpmi here, and an exploration along of pagan Yule traditions from a Norwegian perspective here.

Are any of these surprising to you? Do you have any corrections or additions? Please let me know in the comments.

Date of Christmas
For the church’s first three centuries, Christmas wasn’t in December—or on the calendar at all. December 25th already hosted two other festivals: natalis solis invicti (the Roman “birth of the unconquered sun”), and the birthday of Mithras, the “Sun of Righteousness.” The winter solstice, another celebration of the sun, fell within a few days. Roman church leaders decided to take advantage of the popularity of this season when they chose the date to celebrate Christ’s birth, an event that probably occurred in the month of September.

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