yule

Long a quaint, archaic, seasonal word restricted mainly to a narrow set of contexts (although in more general use still in the northern parts of Great Britain), this word got a bit of a boost from J.K. Rowling, who used it rather than, say, Christmas. Most who know this word will likely think of a yule log or or yuletide, or perhaps of the song “Welcome Yule!” Its main use outside of that for many people has likely been seasonal wordplay (“yule love it” as a phrase gets 8750 hits on Google). But it is an evocative word, smooth like a glass of eggnog and just as ready to bring thoughts of the season to mind. The y may help it to maintain its “olde tyme” air, as y‘s tend to show up in faux archaism, not just in silliness like olde tyme but in the well-known ye olde. (The thing about that ye, however, is that it’s not the same as the pronoun in ye shall die; in fact, it’s not really ye at all. Old English had a character, thorn – þ – which was not present in the continental type faces English printers bought, so they used y in its place. Ye olde is really þe olde, i.e., the olde. This is unlike the y in yule, which, if it were a thorn in disguise, would make the word þule, thule – which, one must admit, would at least be appropriate to the wintriness of the season. But it’s a y fair and proper; in Swedish yule is jul.) This is a concise word, four letters, which means three days of partying per letter. Oh, yes: the twelve days of Christmas (which, retail ads notwithstanding, start on December 25 and end with twelfth-night just before Epiphany) were first the twelve days of yule. So what’s the difference? Well, yule was the pagan celebration that the Church co-opted (if you can’t beat ’em…) by making it a celebration of the birth of Christ. Some might complain that if we now call it yule we’re leaving the Christ out of Christmas. Fair enough, although most people seem to do so anyway; but it would at least make it parallel to another pagan celebration co-opted by Christianity, a spring celebration of fertility (eggs, rabbits) that kept its name, mutated by time: originally named after Eostre, the goddess of dawn, we now call it Easter. And speaking of eggs, I fancy a sip of some nog now.

One response to “yule

  1. Pingback: holiday | Sesquiotica

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