Ever wonder why we make such a big deal about New Year's, eating ham and making resolutions? Well, I am about to lay down the truth. Turns out, that it is just another holdover from our pagan roots, especially for those of us with Germanic and/or Nordic DNA.
Yule (or Jól), celebrated for 12 days from 20 December (the Winter Solstice) to 1 January, is the most important of all Norse holidays. The darkest time of the year symbolizes the beginning and end of all things and it is when the gods and goddesses are the closest to Midgard, the realm of the mortals.
The god Freyr was one of the most widely and passionately venerated divinities amongst the Norse and other Germanic peoples. One old Norse poem calls him “the foremost of the gods” and “hated by none.” The reasons for this aren’t hard to understand; the people's well-being and prosperity depended on his benevolence, which particularly manifested itself in sexual and ecological fertility, bountiful harvests, wealth, and peace. His role in providing health and abundance was often symbolized by his magical boar Gullinbursti (“Golden-Bristles”). This creature was able to run as fast as any steed and glowed with a golden light that could drive away shadow and turn night into day. Freyr was also considered the god of Yule.
On Yule Eve, the Germanic people would celebrate the blót, or blood sacrifice, to the Norse gods with the sacrifice of the Sonargöltr, or boar. Being the sacred animal of Freyr, the boar has always had a strong association with Yule and represented the spirit of abundance and prosperity. Its sacrifice at the darkest time of the year was thought to help to ensure bountiful crops at the following harvest. Due to the solar attributes of Gullinbursti, the midwinter sacrifice of a boar could also be seen to symbolize the death of the old sun and the rebirth of the new.
Heitstrenging, or solemn vows, were also traditionally made while laying hands on the bristles or head of the sacrificed boa and in association with the Bragafull ,or chieftain's, toast. The connection with the sacrificial boar and the ritual toast gave the vows the force of an oath. However, due to the ritual process, the vows usually came after the speaker was drunk.
As time went on, traditions associated with the god Freyr became related to St. Stephen in Scandinavia, Sweden, and England. In some old Swedish art, Stephen is shown to be bringing a boar's head to a Yuletide feast.
The Boar's Head Feast still takes place, primarily in England, during the Twelve Days of Christmas with a homemade meal including mince pies and plum pudding. The boar’s head is carried in on an elaborately decorated platter, accompanied by the singing of the Boar’s Head Carol. It is considered the oldest continuing festival of the Christmas season.
So as you go about eating your sonargöltr and making your heitstrenging for the coming year, just remember that is all started as a pagan ceremony.
Although, one thing is for sure: I will be enjoying my sonargöltr with cornbread and collard greens!
Happy New Year!