What is the historical relationship between Yule and Christmas?

Yule is in part a set of secular and religious observances of a festival, arising out of pagan Germanic cultures.

Christmas is in part a set of secular and religious observances of a festival, arising out of a 4th century Roman Christian feast celebrating the claimed birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

Reference to papers related to this question will be most welcome.

  • We don't do resource requests here, edited to make good. Dec 7, 2014 at 23:30
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    \begin{pedantry} The description "End of Year Marketing Festival" is probably anachronistic. Before the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752, England celebrated New Year's Day on March 25, roughly coinciding with the spring equinox. \end{pedantry}
    – David H
    Dec 8, 2014 at 0:13
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    Sorry Samuel, but you abused in the edition. Note that many of us are not experts in the field and still I want to see an academic research document reference. Dec 8, 2014 at 0:58
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    The question as edited appears on-topic. Welcoming references isn't a reference request: the core question is on-topic. Dec 8, 2014 at 2:06
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    Your mileage may vary, but history is a humanity and a social science where your "syntactic sugar" plays a deep role in the capacity to read complex texts. Don't be astonished if you get a "church supremacy" based answer dealing with Christianisation of european culture in the middle ages, when this analytical position is currently rejected by the historiography. Dec 8, 2014 at 4:48

2 Answers 2


It is probably somewhat, but not entirely coincidental.

We aren't 100% sure exactly why Christmas is celebrated when it is. The leading theory is that the date of Christmas was set to match (or rather, co-opt) a pagan Winter Solstice festival. The specific festival most point to was Sol Invictus. Historians going as far back as the 12th century were reporting this theory. Sol Invictus being the Roman sun god, the timing of his festival just after the Winter Solstice (the day with the least sunlight all year), is no coincidence.

Another prominent theory is that it is tied to the date of the Vernal Equinox (exactly 9 months later to be precise), which of course indirectly also ends up placing it just after the Winter Solstice.

So while the date was set before the Germanics were converted, the fact that it coincides with (and perhaps helps co-opt) their own "Yule" solstice festival, isn't exactly a coincidence.

  • The Vernal equinox is three months later, not nine months later. It is in March. The assumption is that the pregnancy started in March and lasted exactly 9 months.
    – Oldcat
    Mar 4, 2015 at 19:21
  • @Oldcat The Vernal Equinox was calculated to be March 25, and Christmas was placed 9 months after that. The idea there is that Jesus was supposedly conceived then, and God being perfect, it must have taken Jesus exactly 9 months to gestate. My parenthetical statement was modifying the subject of the sentence, not its direct object. Added verbage to clarify.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 4, 2015 at 19:33
  • The Jewish calendar shows both Babylonian and Egyptian influences. The former celebrated the New Year in spring, the latter in autumn. The Talmud has an entire chapter dedicated to the topic of establishing whether time began in spring or in autumn. Christianity emerged out of Judaism, and shows similar tensions. On one hand, a spring date for creation is consistent with Adam (and therefore Christ, the New Adam) being created (conceived) during the same season. On the other hand, the Eastern Orthodox ecclesial New Year is on the first day of September.
    – Lucian
    Sep 9, 2019 at 11:17

You may want to read the following related question: Were there Gifts on the Days Leading Up to Christmas?

To paraphrase what it says there:

In Scotland, the twelve days of the Yule festival, called Da latha dheug na Nollaig, were celebrated according to the traditions of the viking invaders and they had the custom of giving gifts on all twelve days from Christmas Day to the Day of the Epiphany. You can find a long rundown of these and similar customs in Keary's book "Outline of Primitive Beliefs" (1882). The Golden Bough by James Frazer also has a long article on it.

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