Every year around Christmastime the word "Yule" pops up all over the place, especially in advertising. Maybe it's because it rhymes with so many words, making for quippy holiday taglines and corny play-on-words like the one in the intro to this article.
But all cleverness aside, where does the word "Yule" come from?
Like many Christmas terms, "Yule" dates back to Pagan traditions in pre-Christian Europe, and didn't originally have anything to do with Christmas. The word's exact origin isn't certain, perhaps coming from the Norse word "jol" meaning "wheel" to identify the time of year when the cycle of the season is about to turn.
In Pagan traditions, Yule – which usually falls on the winter solstice on Dec. 21 – celebrates the return of the sun. Although Yule is the darkest night of the year, it marks the point when the sun reaches the southern most point in its yearly cycle and the start of increased daylight.
Milwaukee's Luna Deosil celebrates Yule.
"Yule marks the time to celebrate the return of the sun. Because Yule is the longest night of the year, we burn candles on the log to represent the sun coming back," says Deosil, who grew up in Milwaukee and has celebrated the holiday her entire life.
The Yule log, another ancient Pagan tradition, made its way into popular culture as a chocolate holiday cake, but for Pagans, it's similar to the Christmas tree. Many Pagans find or cut down a log, drill holes into it for candles and adorn it with mistletoe, holly, garland and ribbons.
Other Yule traditions include eating a big meal, storytelling, singing songs and exchanging gifts.
"Over the years, Yule became more and more about gift-giving, just like the other December holidays," says Deosil.
Yule is a sabbat, one of the traditional Pagan holidays, but not the most important one. Other holidays like Beltane (May 1) and Lammas (Aug. 2) are more significant, but because of Yule's close proximity to the highly commercial Christmas holiday, the present-exchanging aspect is illuminated.
Pagans, contrary to popular belief, do not worship the devil. Paganism is a pre-Christian religion that follows the seasons, and worships one deity that is both god and goddess. Because Paganism predates Christianity, many of the Christian customs and holidays are based on pagan traditions and therefore very similar, such as the Yule log, as well as Easter, called Ostara in the Pagan tradition.
"Yule and Christmas are very similar, only Pagans celebrate the birth of the 'sun' instead of 'the son'," says Deosil.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.