The word Yule comes from Old English geōl, “Christmas Day, Christmastide.”
Before the Anglo-Saxons converted to Christianity in the 7th century AD, geōl was the name of a winter festival held sometime during the time of the year we would now call December. After their conversion, the Anglo-Saxons continued to use geōl as the name for the great Christian feast occurring at the same time, Christmas. Other pagan peoples speaking Germanic languages held similar festivals, and among the Norse, the winter festival was called jōl, using the Old Norse equivalent of Old English geōl. After the conversion of Scandinavia to Christianity, jōl was put to new use just as geōl had been in Great Britain, and the usual word for Christmas is still Jul in Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish, the descendants of Old Norse.
The Anglo-Saxon church did not discourage this kind of reapplication of native Germanic words to the new Christian traditions emanating from the Mediterranean world, and today, several other Christian holidays have English names with Anglo-Saxon roots. Easter, for example, descends from Old English ēastre, which comes from the name of a springtime festival celebrated by the Anglo-Saxons’ pagan ancestors to honor the goddess of the dawn. Lent comes from Old English lencten, originally meaning “spring” and related to the word long, since the days become longer in spring.
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