This is the second "Yule" that has passed during the life of this blog so far. (See here for Yule 2013.) Those who know me know why I might be interested in Yule (spelled with a 'J' in the Scandinavian and other related languages).
The actual meaning of this word is originally "Winter Solstice", i.e. the point at which the Sun's rays, travelling southward for the previous six months, hit their southernmost maximum and then begin to come back north. This is why the day on which the Winter Solstice (Yule) occurs is "the shortest day of the year". Tide is another old word for "time" or "period". Yuletide simply means the time around the Yule moment (Solstice).
The exact moment of the "Yule" (Solstice) in 2014 6:03 PM Sunday December 21st 2014 Eastern U.S. Time, or 8:03 AM December 22nd 2014 Korea Time where I still find myself. I was typically very busy in the days leading up to this day, including unexpectedly having the opportunity to help a Syrian student of the Korean language living in the UAE (and now back in the UAE) visit around the Seoul area (more on this later, perhaps). I also worked full-time Monday through Wednesday of this week, back in Ilsan, and had the chance to revisit some old friends. I have no classes of my own till January 7th.
Three days later, Christmas morning, I was at the top of Gyeyang Mountain (계양산) with three others. I don't know what the ancient Northern Europeans did to celebrate Yule, but trudging up a mountain in the windy cold with the sun rising at our backs seems appropriate. We had a meager meal of chocolate-coated wafers and bottled orange juice at the top. My main activity besides trying to keep warm was trying to decipher the historical sign posted at the top, with more success than usual.
Here is the "Yule Plus Three Days" sunrise:
I said I didn't suppose Scandinavians had an unbroken chain of surname inheritance from pre-Christian times to the present. But the story is more complicated than this and he may be more right than we think:
English-speaking people, centuries ago, decided that Latin words were much more sophisticated than the equivalent words descended from Germanic words (note: "sophisticated", "equivalent", and "descended" are all Latin-origin words, as is, ironically, the word "Germanic"!), and this "Yule" is a case of that. The Latin word (Solstice) replaced the Germanic (Yule) in English and so "Yule" fell into disuse. It has held on by vaguely attaching itself to Christmas, which occurs a few days later. This is not coincidental. The early Christian leaders, it seems, chose December 25th to commemorate Jesus' birthday specifically to placate the Pagans of Europe at the time and their major Yule festival, kind of taking it over. This must be why so many traditional aspects of Christmas seem to just not fit at all if the holiday is ostensibly about Jesus' birth. Evergreen trees; mistletoe; wreaths; feasting; special kinds of alcohol; the Santa figure; reindeer; elves; snow; travelling to visit family; and a general kind of magical goodwill permeating things for a week or two. These things make more sense in light of the Yule connection.
The Lutheran Church, and maybe others, have a tradition of dawn service on Christmas morning, which seems to me very surely to be a descendant sunrise Yule rituals. In my time in Estonia (Ethnic Estonians are also Lutherans), I recall that some people of my acquaintance at the time were holding a more explicit Solstice festival. Finally, here is a list of translations of "Merry Christmas" in the Scandinavian languages.