Learning about the history of a word tells us a lot about that word’s meanings over the years. The word “bear” comes from a proto Germanic word meaning “brown thing.” The word “wreath” comes from the word “ridan,” meaning “to twist.” The word “Yule,” the old name for the Winter Solstice, comes from the old English word “geola,” and the old Norse word “jol,” and it is so old that the only thing it has ever meant is Yule.
Our ancestors who lived far from the equator honored this time, this pause in the darkness, for so long that we don’t really even know where this holy time comes from, or how it first began. The earliest celebrations of Yule went on for several days, or even months, depending on the historical source you’re reading. They were a time when the community gathered. Wedding contracts were made, feasts were held, and at least in some places, temples were blessed.
In old Norse religious practice, the gods had several different names used to reference them. Odin was the leader deity of Norse mythology, and one of his other names is Jolnir – literally “the bringer of Yule.” We see it in the recorded reckoning of time: “ǣrra ġēola” referred to the period before the Yule festival and “æftera ġēola” referred to the period after Yule. It was such an important holiday that the lead up and clean up had specific windows of time named for it. Continue reading….