Saturday, December 15, 2018

Discover the Origins of Christmas Traditions: Michelle Styles

Where do Christmas traditions come from? Some we can date to specific events such as the publication of Dr. Suess’s When the Grinch Stole Christmas or Dickens’s  A Christmas Carol. Other traditions have been acquired from other cultures or are lost in the mist of time. Some last a few years or even several generations but a special few stand the test of time, until sometimes the original meaning is long forgotten.
When I first started writing Sent as the Viking’s Bride (to published 18 December 2018), I deliberately set it during the Jul season which was roughly the same as our Christmas season. Jul lasted from November to 20 January. The Christmas season used to end on Candlemas, the presentation of Jesus at the temple  or 2 February (even though today it tends to be on Epiphany or 6 January or even on the 1st) so you can see why it was easy to roll the two into one.
  I knew in order to make it easier for people, they co-opted some of the Jul traditions into the Christmas festival. You can hear in  some of the names – yuletide or yule log. The tradition of having ham/pork also goes back to the Viking culture because the boar was a sacred animal, particularly for swearing oaths and Jul was a time of renewing oaths. In Scandinavia, marzipan pigs are still considered lucky at Christmas and many children find them in their stocking.
 Food and drink along with the festivities were important parts of the celebration (there are reasons why Cromwell banned Christmas celebrations as not being Christian!). In common with many Germanic people, the Vikings would sacrifice some of the Jul ale to the fruit trees. We still get this with the tradition of wassailing.
Wreaths of evergreen were fashioned and put a blaze to help bring the Sun Maiden. In Norse legend, every mid-winter, the Sun maiden is swallowed by Fenrir the Wolf and is rescued through the efforts of Thor. You can see how a festival of light and re-birth  lent itself easily to being refashioned.
The Scandinavian goat (not a reindeer) – the red and white figurine is because Thor’s chariot, the one he used to rescue the Sun Maiden was pulled by two goats. They still play a prominent part in many people’s Christmas celebrations in these countries.
The nisser or house-elf who ensures good fortune still has a part to play in  Scandinavian celebrations. In Norway people put out rice pudding or porridge on Christmas eve for the nisser to ensure they will get good luck. If you happen to have a gnome looking Santa, it is probably a nisser rather than a Santa.
The Vikings brought the concept to Britain and it is where we get the term elf, pixie or brownie from. And because I happen to like the idea of having a house-elf  very much,  I made sure they played an important part in my latest novel.
It was fabulous being able to learn about Jul and its traditions and how those traditions have been passed along.
You can read the first chapter of Sent as The Viking’s Bridefor free here.
Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance for Harlequin Historical in a wide range of time periods. Her next book Sent as the Viking’s Bride will be published on 18 December 2018 in the US, 27 December in the UK. Learn more about  Michelle and her books at

1 comment:

dstoutholcomb said...

loved learning the traditions