Monday, 21 December 2015

December – the month of Yule

Last month I blogged about November’s Finnish name and thought, why not make it a monthly feature? Wrestling with words is what I do, and names are fascinating, so here goes...

The name of December in Finnish is joulukuu. It seems straightforward enough: joulu means 'Christmas' and the whole month has been named after that feast. The Finnish word joulu, in turn, comes from the Old Norse word jól – yes, the very same that gave Yule its name. So, in Finnish, this midwinter feast still retains its pagan roots even in its name (I could go on about various traditions, but that’s a topic for another time).

I said it seems straightforward enough, didn’t I? Which means it has to be more complicated than it seems. Well, December wasn’t always known as the month of Yule. Up until the 17th or 18th century, it was known as talvikuu, ’winter month’ (or ’winter moon’... I like the sound of that). That makes sense; December is usually when winter begins and it’s the time of Winter Solstice (talvipäivänseisaus in Finnish). However, as Yule gained more and more importance as a yearly holiday, the name of the month also changed. Considering that winter seems to arrive later each year - in fact, the weather we have now in Midwinter doesn't much differ from the weather of last Midsummer! - it seems that the name talvikuu would no longer even be very appropriate.

No comments:

Post a Comment