Yule is the winter solstice Blót (celebration) in Ásatrú, the pagan practices of the Germanic peoples prior to the arrival of Christianity. Today, it is also one of the eight solar holidays, or sabbats, of Neopaganism. In modern neopaganism, Yule is celebrated on the winter solstice: in the northern hemisphere, circa December 21, and in the southern hemisphere, circa June 21.
"Yule" and "Yuletide" are also archaic terms for Christmas, sometimes invoked in songs to provide atmosphere. Indeed, this is the only meaning of "Yule" accepted by either the full Oxford English Dictionary or the Concise Oxford Dictionary, and people unfamiliar with ancient Germanic pagan traditions will not distinguish between Yule and Christmas. This usage survives in the term "Yule log"; it may also persist in some Scottish dialects.
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Connection to modern Christmas
Many of the symbols associated with the modern holiday of Christmas such as the burning of the Yule log, the bringing in of a Christmas trees, the eating of ham, the hanging of boughs, holly, mistletoe, etc. are apparently derived from traditional northern European Yule celebrations. When the first missionaries began converting the Germanic peoples to Christianity, they found it easier to simply provide a Christian reinterpretation for popular feasts such as Yule and allow the celebrations themselves to go on largely unchanged, rather than trying to suppress them. The Scandinavian tradition of slaughtering a pig at Christmas (see Christmas ham), and not in the autumn, is probably the most salient evidence for this. The tradition derives from the sacrifice to the god Freyr at the Yule celebrations. Halloween and Easter are theorized to have been likewise assimilated from northern European pagan festivals.
English historian Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum ("Ecclesiastic History of the English People") contains a letter from Pope Gregory I to Saint Mellitus, who was then on his way to England to conduct missionary work among the heathen Anglo-Saxons. The Pope suggests that converting heathens is easier if they are allowed to retain the outward forms of their traditional pagan practices and traditions, while recasting those traditions spiritually towards the one true God instead of to their pagan gods (whom the Pope refers to as "devils"), "to the end that, whilst some gratifications are outwardly permitted them, they may the more easily consent to the inward consolations of the grace of God".  The Pope sanctions such conversion tactics as Biblically acceptable, pointing out that God did much the same thing with the ancient Israelites and their pagan sacrifices.
Of the contested origin of Jól, one likely connection is to Old Norse hjól, 'wheel,' to identify the moment when the wheel of the year is at its lowpoint, ready to rise again. Other linguists suggest that the connection is fortuitous, and that Jól has been inherited by Germanic and Scandinavian languages from a pre-Indo-European substrate language.
What is certain is that Yule celebrations at the winter solstice predate Christianity, and though there are numerous references to Yule in the Icelandic sagas, there are few accounts of how Yule was actually celebrated, beyond the fact that it was a time for feasting. 'Yule-Joy', with dancing, continued through the Middle Ages in Iceland, but was frowned upon when the Reformation arrived. It is, however, known to have included the sacrifice of a pig for the god Frey, a tradition which survives in the Scandinavian Christmas ham.
The confraternities of artisans of the 9th century, which developed into the medieval guilds, were denounced by Catholic clergy for their "conjurations" when they swore to support one another in coming adversity and in business adventures. The occasions were annual banquets on December 26,
- "feast day of the pagan god Jul, when it was possible to couple with the spirits of the dead and with demons that returned to the surface of the earth... Many clerics denounced these conjurations as being not only a threat to public order but also, more serious in their eyes, satanic and immoral. Hincmar, in 858, sought in vain to Christianize them" (Rouche 1987, p. 432).
Today the holiday is, with Beltane and Samhain, one of the most popular among Neopagans. In some traditions, it commemorates the death of the Holly King (symbolizing the old year and the shortened sun) at the hands of his son and successor, the Oak King (the new year and the new sun that begins to grow). In other traditions, it is seen as the birthday of the new sun god.
A traditional ritual is a vigil from dusk to dawn, the longest night of the year, to make sure that the sun will rise again.
See also: Wheel of the Year.
- Rouche, Michel, "Private life conquers state and society," in A History of Private Life vol I, Paul Veyne, editor, Harvard University Press 1987 ISBN 0–674–39974–9