December 15, 2019 — The midwinter festivities of ancient Europe are often called Yule or Yuletide.
Ritual celebrations were important and essential components in old times, especially in the Norse cultures because of the long dark winters in Scandinavia and Finland. The Norsemen held great feasts to venerate their ancestors, swear oaths, for fertility, and to celebrate seasonal shifts in nature. Towards the end of the year, Vikings in western Scandinavia (and Varangians in the east) welcomed the new year through great feasting. These Yuletide celebrations hailed from a distant past, perhaps further back than the Bronze Age, and had thus been a recurring tradition since long before the Viking Age.
Interestingly, the midwinter festivities of pagan Europe lasted for twelve days. It is from this tradition we have the modern twelve days of Christmas. In other words, the rituals of our pagan ancestors still live on in parts of northern Europe, especially in Scandinavia, Iceland, and Finland.
One Yuletide ritual involved sacrificing a wild boar, described as the “sónargǫltr” in Icelandic literature. As part of the ceremony, oaths were sworn on the sacrificed boar’s bristles (a tradition that is not entirely out of fashion, if one considers contemporary New Year’s resolutions.) Food was scarce in the winter months, and through the sacrifice of the sónargǫltr, it was hoped the seeds to be sown in any man’s farmstead’s field would provide a rich and fruitful harvest.
Moreover, it is also believed the wild boar sacrifice was made in honor of the Vanir god Freyr, in a more general sense, to bring hopes for an overall productive new season and year. If one keeps in mind the Norse myths stipulate that Freyr rides the gold-bristled boar Gullinbursti, the sónargǫltr ritual becomes more than plausible.
Finally, part of the wild boar tradition lives on to this day and age in the Nordic countries. For example, Sweden has the “Yuletide ham,” which is called “julskinka” in Swedish. Julskinka is delicious pig’s meat enjoyed all over Scandinavia, and its flesh reflects the wild boar winter feasts of pre-Christian Europe.