The Viking calendar

The Viking calendar was drawn up around and reflected their relationship with nature and the work that had to be done at the different times of the year. They divided the year into the summer months and the winter months. A Viking’s age was not calculated in years, but in winters, a custom that is still used to calculate the age of livestock. The Vikings divided the year by the phases of the moon, from full moon to full moon. They had 12 months in their calendar, but the number of days was probably not exact, and it was particularly difficult to observe the moon during the long light evenings of the summer months in these northerly climes.

The third month was called Mörsugur, which lasted from mid-December to mid-January. The name literally means ‘fat-sucker’, i.e. the fat-sucking month. It was important to eat rich, fatty fare during this period, a custom we have incorporated into our own Christmas traditions.

The viking farm at Avaldsnes|© Daniel Schulze Ardey

Sacrificial festival in honour of the Gods

The word ‘jul’ (English: Yule) comes from the word ‘jólablót’ or ‘Jòl’. During the Viking Age, there was little outdoor work to be done during ‘Mörsugur’, and the yuletide celebration or the custom of ‘drinking Yule’ was a welcome change during an otherwise uneventful time of the year. This type of event was often held in the longhouse, where there was plenty of space. Like today, the celebration back then also involved friends, family and good food and drink.

Yule lasted a month during the Viking Age, and ‘drinking Yule’ was synonymous with the celebration. The God Odin was also called Jólnir, and honouring Jólnir by ‘drinking Yule’ was every good Viking’s duty. The Vikings made sacrifices to honour the Norse Gods. Researchers disagree on whether the Viking celebration of Yule was intended to honour the return of the sun or a sacrificial festival to ensure the fertility of the earth, people and animals in the new year.

The Vikings enjoyed getting dressed up for big occasions, as we do today. Artefacts that have been found show that the Vikings enjoyed wearing large brightly coloured pieces of jewellery for big celebrations like Yule.

© Daniel Schulze Ardey

A celebration with lots of good food and drink

Eating and toasting to honour the Gods were important elements of the Yule celebration. Although beer was the most important component of the celebration, meat also played an important role. Different types of animal were sacrificed and eaten, and the most popular dish was pork. Pork had a high status among the Vikings, and being able to eat it every day was one of the rewards of the afterlife.

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