As we enter December, we anticipate any number of holidays. Twenty-nine holidays from various traditions fall between the last week of November and middle of January. Many, but by no means all, of these are ancient holidays which were Christianized. My favorite of these though is Yule.
Yule, also known as the 12 days of Christmas, can begin between December 20 and December 23, depending on the year in the Gregorian calendar. In Nordic and Germanic countries, it begins on the day of the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, usually December 21st. Yule is celebrated for another 12 days though, through January 1st, at the shortest or until the 12th of January (“twelve days” or “until the 12th day”).
Company’s Coming: Welcome the Yule Goat
The holidays bring a train of friends and family as guests. You might wish that the Yule Goat is among them. In one tradition, the Yule Goat takes its origins from Thor, the God of Thunder, who rode in the sky in a wagon pulled by his two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr, meaning teeth-barer and teeth-grinder respectively.
However, another goat, Heidrun, is described in the Poetic and Prose Eddas. She eats the foliage of the sacred tree Laeraor and produces mead for fallen warriors brought to Valhalla. As Yule celebrations were originally referred to as “Drinking Yules”, with an emphasis on drinking as an important part of the celebration, a good case can be made for Heidrun as at least influencing the Yule goat.
The Krampus for the Rest of Us
The Yule goat brings gifts, especially gifts for good children. But what about the rest of us? We are not left out, we have the Krampus! The Krampus, or Christmas Devil, a Germanic demon, comes to punish bad seeds and naughty children. Krampusnacht is an annual festival celebrated through the Alpine region from Austria and Northern Italy, to Solvenia, Hungary, Germany and the Czech Republic. Like the Yule goat, the Krampus is horned and may wear cowbells on his backside reminiscent of Santa’s sleigh. Unlike the Yule Goat, the Krampus has a great gaping jaw, the better to eat you with, as befits any proper demon.
The Krampus arrives on December 5th — the naughty always like to move to the head of the line first — well before Christmas. St. Nikolaus also arrives this night, who will fill shoes with gifts if they’ve been good or rods if not. The Krampus is more proactive; he carries a birch bundle to beat naughty children before stuffing them into his basket and carry them off. The Church tried to ban Krampusnacht as far back as the 12th century, but with little success. By the 19th century, Father Christmas was arriving on a Yule Goat: