Norse Yule: A Time of Darkness and Drinking

Norse Yule: A Time of Darkness and Drinking

Cultures the world over have midwinter celebrations. It’s a great way to keep the spirits up during the darkest, coldest time of the year. The Norse did not exclude themselves from this tradition; in fact, they had a number of different holidays that helped to keep the especially cold and dark north jolly and warm. And so many of them involved getting schwasted.

Winter Solstice falls on the 21st of December. It’s the longest, darkest day of the year, and it’s also the beginning of the Norse holiday season. In Norway, the sun on Solstice may only be up a couple hours at most. This is particularly frightening if you don’t understand the science behind it. To the Norse, it obviously wasn’t that the Earth was on a tilted axis– it was that a wolf of Hel, the goddess of death, was eating the sun. And the sun was not a gaseous planetary body, but a maiden and the beloved of all gods.

One of our AleHorn customers’ epic solstice bonfire, 2015

So Winter Solstice for the Norse was a time of preparation for the coming year. Because the sun maiden wasn’t just eaten; she also gives birth to the sun for the new year. That sun will retrace her mother’s footsteps through the sky in the coming year, only to be eaten again next solstice.

The end of the Norse holiday season falls on January 12th– called Jólablót , or Yule Sacrifice. But we’ll come back to that.

The interim period between the solstice and Jólablót is referred to as Yule, or Jól, and that’s when the party starts to get real. If you’ve been following this blog for a couple months, you probably remember that we talked about the Sacrifice to the Elves, that very personal and humble holiday at the end of October/beginning of November where people honored their dead ancestors.

Well, Yule has something to do that. Because during Yule, Odin leads the Wild Hunt across the sky– and that hunt is full of Oskoreia. Riders from Asgard. The dead, or elves, or maybe both, one and the same. We’ll look more in depth into this party from Hell next week.

At this point, you’re probably like, “Ok, I’ve read 400 words. Where the crap is the drinking? I was promised drinking!” Fear not, child of Odin! The drinking was there all along.

Odin leading the hunt across the sky may be one of the origins of Santa Claus

But the closer we get to  Jólablót, the more prevalent it becomes. In fact, during the whole three weeks of Yule, there are about three days near the end when the partying becomes important. A giant feast would be had, lasting those three days, and everyone would partake in, ‘drinking Yule.’ The idea was not just that you were drinking booze, but that you were drinking in the whole season, not unlike Hel’s wolf eating the sun. You had survived the long night and spring was coming. 

If you want to celebrate Yule like a true viking, you have a couple different drinking options:

  • Wassail: A drink from the Germanic folks, this mulled cifer (or mulled beer or mead) has nutmeg, cinnamon, and sugar. It’s heated over the fire, than served with toast. To get extra festive, bring it to your neighbors. To get extra, extra festive, sing carols while bringing it around.
  • Glogg: a Nordic drink made up of red wine with various spices, like cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamon, and orange. To kick it up a notch, mix in some vodka or brandy.
  • Eggnog: Eggnog came around a little later than the vikings, but doesn’t mean it’s not delicious and won’t taste great when drank from a horn. Mix in some brandy to keep it traditional.
  • Mead: To keep your mead especially festive, add in some cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and vanilla, then heat in a sauce pan over a low heat until it’s as warm as tea.

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Norse Yule: A Time of Darkness and Drinking