Celebrations in Medieval Times
In early Medieval times, the Yule feasts were
continued, even if the occasion had changed. In the Thirteenth
Century several of the most powerful chieftains in Iceland, such
as the historian Snorri Sturluson, his nemesis Gissur Ţorvaldsson,
Snorri's kinsmen Ţórđur kakali and Ţorgils skarđi, all held
large feasts at Yule. And so did the Bishops of the bishopric at Hólar.
These were large feasts, which lasted for several days and
included dancing, games and sports and other entertainment.
In some areas the local folk gathered together and held a joint
feast at Yule, which was called Jólagleđi, Yule Joy.
These feasts continued until the Reformation, Catholicism being
more tolerant of enjoyment at Yule than the reformers. The last
Catholic Bishop at Hólar, Jón Arason, held large Yule feasts.
But after that time there exist many letters from religious and
lay leaders complaining about the dancing and merriment at Yule.
And this had the effect that these feasts and dancing were not
allowed for a couple of centuries. And Iceland lost most of it's
native Folk dances as a result.
There are many folk tales about dancing on Yule Eve and as
people usually went to church on Yule Eve, somebody was left to
guard the house against elves, who came to empty houses and danced
the night away. This may be an indication that the people of
Iceland sought out empty farmhouses on Yule Eve and danced there.
A Royal Decree on Holidays states: "All chess, games,
running, card games, loose talk and entertainment are hereby
strongly forbidden ..." Even though this has long since
been rescinded, this attitude still has some effects, as among
many elderly people it is considered a bad omen to play cards on
Yule. Strange attitude, when one considers that the Yule presents
they usually received as children were a candle and a deck of
All this started to change just before 1900 and Yule merriment
was rekindled, especially for children. The Jólaskemmtanir, Yule
Entertainment, started then and are still going strong. They
were started by the Trade Unions top provide children from poor
families with a chance to see a Yule Tree, dance around the tree,
and have a little fun.
But public entertainment is still considered inappropriate on
Yule Eve and Yule Day, and it is only on Boxing Day that dancing
is allowed in public.
Some Yule Beliefs:
Medieval Era there arose a lot of superstitions and folk beliefs
that still are in existence in Iceland, some of them are retold
here. Many of them are connected to either Yule Eve, New Year's
Eve or Ţrettándinn, as these days have been moved around in the
calendar, and beliefs have been transposed from one to the other.
Churchyards are supposed to "rise" on these nights,
that is to say: the dead walk the graveyard.
Water is supposed to turn into wine for a short time on New
Year's Eve or Ţrettándinn, this is mainly connected to the river
Öxará at Ţingvellir. This river also sometimes turns into
blood, and then one can expect the Alţing (the old Icelandic
Parliament) to be bloody the next year.
The Búrdrífa, Larder Fall, was the rime that collected
on the larder floor on New Year's Eve, and was supposed to bring
wealth and happiness.
One is supposed to be able to see one's future husband, or
wife, on New Year's Eve by looking in a mirror in a pitch-black
room. Nobody else may be present, and you must chant a magical
lay, and then a hand with a knife appears in the mirror three
times, but after that the picture will solidify into the face of
The passing of the Old Year is always an integral part of
Yule, especially as the feast may have started out as the
celebration of a New Year, and in Christianity the year used to
start on the birthday of Jesus.