The Old Norse idiom for “celebrate Yule” means literally “to drink Yule.”

Where did you drink Yule this year?

To the ancestors, Yule was synonymous with, and unthinkable without, the special Yule ale that was brewed in quantity for the great Midwinter feasting each year. Most people drank beer throughout the year, but the Yule ale was always distinctive from the day-to-day brew, specially rich, dark, and high in alcohol. Medieval landowners were required by law to brew enough Yule ale to keep their families and retainers well-drunk for the entire Thirteen Days, and woe to the stingy farmer who tried to short his people of their Yuletide due.

 

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On Old Norse calendar-staves, the first day of Yule was symbolized by an upright—full—drinking-horn. The symbol of the last day of Yule was, conversely, an inverted—i.e. empty—drinking horn.

Yule is an honored and welcome guest, but he does not—and cannot—stay. Householders used to proclaim his departure by placing an upside-down keg outside the door.

In the same spirit, I've noticed over the past few years that, around here, people have started to mark the end of Yule by sticking the denuded Yule-tree outside into a streetside snowdrift. (This is Minnesota; there's always a snowdrift to stick an old Yule tree into.) The party's over, but it's good to mark its passing in a public way.

The snowdrifts are sprouting unwonted evergreens, the Yule-ale's all drunk up. With mingled joy and sorrow, we sweep up the last of the needles and turn our faces towards Spring.

 

Bold Yuletide is past,

Thirteenth Night is the last:

so we bid you adieu,

great joy to the New.