hanging pots and fire

Christmas: Converting Vikings to Christianity

Before Christianity gained a foothold, the Vikings had a three-day festive celebrating midwinter’s night: Jól (in Old Norse) or Yule (in English). As Alaskans know, having a party to celebrate the lengthening of days brings joy into an otherwise literally dark time.

Typically, Jól would be celebrated on the first full moon after the solstice, though some scholars say it took place during the solstice and the two days afterward. While the information is sparse about how the Vikings celebrated, scholars say there was a lot of feasting and drinking.

Haakon the Good and Alcohol

Haakon the Good (c. 918 – 961) returned to Norway and became its third king when he defeated his half-brother Eric Bloodaxe through political means; Haakon promised to end the taxation on inherited property that his father had imposed on the population. King Haakon was raised in England as a Christian and began the conversion of the Vikings when he took power. However, he was not zealous about converting Vikings to Christianity.

He did require a celebration in the midwinter, either Christian or pagan, but he moved the celebration to December 25 to coincide with the Julian calendar and the Christian holiday. People couldn’t just say they were celebrating. Haakon made it a law that each man had to drink about four gallons of alcohol during the celebration to prove that they had taken part in some sort of party.

Haakon’s last names include Adalsteinfostre, because he was fostered by King Athelstan, and Haraldsson, meaning “son of Harald.”

Oil painting "Haakon the Good and the farmers at the clearing on Mære"
“Haakon the Good and the farmers at the clearing on Mære” by Peter Nicolai Arbo in 1860

Celebrating a Viking Holiday

There are a lot of ways that people celebrate the holidays like Vikings. People interested in paganism may have traditions that have nothing to do with the Old Norse way of recognizing the end of the shortest days. That’s okay. There are a lot of holes to fill in the information available from the Viking era. Use the comments section below to tell us your favorite Christmas traditions.

At Asgard Alaska, we will stick as close to the original Viking celebrations with feasting and drinking. However, we will drink in moderation; four gallons of beer over the course of three days is a little too much, unless you are sharing it with a good many friends. When we open, we will look to include those with different dietary needs.

If you want to experience Viking holidays in Alaska, you can help make our living village a reality. Your donations are likely tax deductible. Join our newsletter below.

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