The Norse Origins of Christmas Traditions


Kelly Macquire
published on 18 December 2021

Scandinavia has a rich cultural heritage and Norse Mythology, which was once simply their religious belief system, has continually fascinated and influenced others for centuries. The Norse beliefs and traditions also influenced many of the Christmas traditions we celebrate today.

The word Yuletide, which is now used as a synonym for Christmas, is a word from the Norse pagan winter festival of Yule with the word ‘tide’ meaning a period of time. Yuletide has been celebrated for centuries by the ancient Germanic people (including the Vikings) and similar festivals were also celebrated by the Celts. Yule was celebrated between December 20th and 25th, the Winter Solstice, and the shortest day of the year and it was believed that, during that time, the new sun god for the next year was born.

Vikings and Scandinavians in general decorated evergreen trees with carvings of the gods, runes, clothing, and food. These items were thought to ward off evil spirits and encourage brighter ones to visit the home because they honoured the gods. This tradition continues in people placing cherished objects and sacred images on an evergreen tree such as figures of angels or putting a Christmas creche beneath the tree.

The famous 12 Days of Christmas is also a Norse tradition in that it was believed that Odin, the King of the Gods, rode across the heavens for 12 nights during this season of the midwinter feast which lasted 12 days from the winter solstice. Another tradition associated with the 12 days of Christmas is that you weren't supposed to hang out laundry between the winter solstice and the 2nd of January because Odin and his party of riders could get caught in it and wouldn't be happy with you, this was known as the Wild Hunt.

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0:00​ Introduction
1:23 Yuletide and the Winter Solstice
3:38 Tree Decorating, Christmas Wreaths and a Christmas Carol
5:10 The 12 Days of Christmas
6:18 The Christmas Ham and Kissing Under the Mistletoe
8:47 Outro

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Wheel of the Year

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Norse Mythology: an Introduction to the Norse Gods, Goddesses, Myths and Legends
The History of Samhain and Halloween!
History of the Vikings: Norse Culture, Religion, Seafaring and Famous Warriors

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About the Author

Kelly Macquire
Kelly is a graduate from Monash University who has completed her BA (Honours) in Ancient History and Archaeology, focussing on iconography and status in Pylos burials. She has a passion for mythology and the Aegean Bronze Age.

Cite This Work

APA Style

Macquire, K. (2021, December 18). The Norse Origins of Christmas Traditions. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Chicago Style

Macquire, Kelly. "The Norse Origins of Christmas Traditions." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified December 18, 2021.

MLA Style

Macquire, Kelly. "The Norse Origins of Christmas Traditions." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 18 Dec 2021. Web. 24 Jun 2024.