Yule / by Anne Feakes Part 2

Modern Yule                                                                                                                      continued from Part 1

A more recent tradition has arisen in Iceland where the holiday season officially kicks off with the delivery of the Bokatidindi—a catalogue of every new book published in Iceland.  The Iceland Publishers Association distributes a free catalogue of books to every Icelandic home.  And people go nuts.

Jólabókaflóð (pronounced yo-la-bok-a-flot), or ‘Yule Book Flood,’ originated during World War II when foreign imports were restricted, but paper was cheap.  Iceland’s population was not large enough to support a year-round publishing industry, so book publishers flooded the market with new titles in the final weeks of the year.

While giving books is not unique to Iceland, the tradition of exchanging books on Christmas Eve and then spending the evening reading is becoming more of a cultural phenomenon.

In Iceland also there is a ‘Yule cat’, who is ferocious and will eat anyone who hasn’t gotten new clothes to wear on Christmas eve.

From our own U3A advent calendar 2020:

The Yule Goat is a Scandinavian and North European Christmas tradition.  Its origin may be in Germanic pagan rituals, and it has existed in many variants during Scandinavian history. Modern representations of the Yule goat are typically made of straw.

The Gävle Goat (in Swedish Gävlebocken) is a traditional Christmas display erected annually at Slottstorget (Castle Square) in the town of Gävle, Sweden, 150 miles north of Stockholm. It is a giant version of a traditional Swedish Yule Goat figure made from straw.  It is erected each year by local community groups at the beginning of Advent over a period of two days.  Sadly the goat has been the subject of repeated arson attacks: as of December 2019, the goat has been damaged 37 times.  Burning the goat is now an offence, with a 3 month sentence for aggravated property damage.

Nearer to home, in the Scottish Islands Yule is very much celebrated.  The winter solstice remains significant to Orcadians:

The weather gods shined on Stromness as the town celebrated the final day of 2019 with the now annual Yule Log contests.

KING OLAF’S CHRISTMAS,            — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

At Drontheim, Olaf the King
Heard the bells of Yule-tide ring,
As he sat in his banquet-hall,
Drinking the nut-brown ale,
With his bearded Berserks hale
And tall.

Three days his Yule-tide feasts
He held with Bishops and Priests,
And his horn filled up to the brim;
But the ale was never too strong,
Nor the Saga-man’s tale too long,
For him.

O’er his drinking-horn, the sign
He made of the cross divine,
As he drank, and muttered his prayers;
But the Berserks evermore
Made the sign of the Hammer of Thor
Over theirs.

The gleams of the firelight dance
Upon helmet and haubert and lance,
And laugh in the eyes of the King;
And he cries to Halfred the Scald,
Gray-bearded, wrinkled, and bald,

“Sing me a song divine,
With a sword in every line,
And this shall be thy reward.”
And he loosened the belt at his waist,
And in front of the singer placed
His sword.

“Quern-bitter of Hakon the Good,
Wherewith at a stroke he hewed
The millstone through and through,

And Foot-breadth of Thoralf the Strong,
Were neither so broad nor so long,
Nor so true.”

Then the Scald took his harp and sang,
And loud through the music rang
The sound of that shining word;
And the harp-strings a clangor made,
As if they were struck with the blade
Of a sword.

And the Berserks round about
Broke forth in a shout
That made the rafters ring;
They smote with their fists on the board,
And shouted, “Long live the sword,
And the King.”

But the King said, “O my son,
I miss the bright word in one
Of thy measures and thy rhymes.”
And Halfred the Scald replied,
“In another ‘t was multiplied
Three times.”

Then King Olaf raised the hilt
Of iron, cross-shaped and gilt,
And said, “Do not refuse;
Count well the gain and the loss,
Thor’s hammer or Christ’s cross:

And Halfred the Scald said, “This
In the name of the Lord I kiss,
Who on it was crucified!”
And a shout went round the board,
“In the name of Christ the Lord,
Who died!”

Then over the waste of snows
The noonday sun uprose,
Through the driving mists revealed,
Like the lifting of the Host,
By incense-clouds almost

On the shining wall a vast
And shadowy cross was cast
From the hilt of the lifted sword,
And in the foaming cups of ale
The Berserks drank “Was-hael!
To the Lord!”