The Church begun at an early period to imitate the pomp and ceremony of the heathen, and it came in time to be thought excellent policy to adopt the chief of the heathen festivals, and consecrate them to the services of the christian religion. Such was in reality the origin of Christmas. It was under the name of Yehul, Yule, Ule or Jol, celebrated by all the northern pagans in testimony of their joy at the change of the year. It is called Yule among the Baltic nations, buy the common people of Scotland, and even in the northern counties of England, to the present day. It appears to have been the same with Dionysia of the Greeks, which was celebrated in honour of the God of Wine, and in which the worshippers of both sexes having disguised themselves in a fantastic manner, ran about in the country exhibiting themselves in the most grotesque figures. (Potten. Antiq.v.II.p.382.) Yule or Christmas is still celebrated in the same manner by the youth in the lower ranks of society, in some parts of Scotland and England, under the name of Gysars, or people in disguise. The young men dressed in women's clothes, and provided with horns and instruments of music, and other means of creaking noise, run through the country during the night in greater or smaller companies, visiting every person in the neighbourhood, and performing all sorts of ridiculous and antic gesticulations. And Blount, an old English lexicographer, states in his dictionary of hard words, that the people of Yorkshire, and other parts of the north of England, had an old custom after sermon on Christmas day, even in the churches, of crying 'Ule, Ule,' and running about the streets, singing -
Ule, Ule, Ule, Ule, Three puddings in a pule, Crack nuts and cry Ule.
The name of Yehul or Yule was also given in former times to the festival of Lammas at the beginning of August. Lammas is the same with the Saxon Hlafmaesse, the Leaf or Bread Mass; and was originally a festival of Ceres, the goddess of Husbandry. She was sometimes called Joule by the Greeks, and gave her name to the festival, and also to the offerings presented to her at that time. Hence the bearers of these offerings are called Oulophoroi, or the bearer of the Oulo. The festival, when it became christianized, was intended to commemorate the imprisonment of Peter, and received the name of St. Peter Ad Vincula; but the common people, still retaining the practice of presenting the first fruits of the harvest, gave it the name of the Hlafmaesse, or Bread Mass. and considered it as a sort of thanksgiving for the crop. Ceres was esteemed the daughter of Saturn, and it is highly probable that she received the name of Joulo from him; for the northern nations in their pagan state all worshipped Saturn, and by many of them he was called Jolfoeden, or Father Yule; and Yehul is from the Gehul Gehuil. The wheel. revolution or turn of the year; and the festival was celebrated in honour of him.
Christmas was therefore an idolatrous rite before it became a christian festival; but whether its character can be substantially changed by a Bull of tho Pope, or a decree of the Council, or whether it can allowed by the silent influence of "use and wont," is a question which I shall leave to more competent judges. Through it is now upwards of twenty years since I had the advantage of seeing Jamieson's Dictionary of Scottish Language, I remember to have been very highly enterained by the words Yule and Gyson. He treated the subjects with all the zeal of a devoted Antiquarian, and the ability of a profound and judicious Etymologist; but my recollection of his account of these matters, is at the distance of time too indistinct to permit me to give anything upon his authority. The facts from which the above is taken, are all collected from other sources. Should any of your readers be led by the above to wish for something more on the subject, I would recommend them to peruse Dr. Jamieson's Dictionary; and I am mistaken if they are not fully satisfied.
vault, microfilm #9, #047