Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Viborg Cathedral

Jul/ Christmas the beginning
In Denmark the pagan solstice feast became a Christian celebration from about 1000. The Church commanded to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25. And like on other occasssions the custom had to start the evening before. People continued though to arrange traditional old julefeasts with drinking and violent games. Therefore a strict law was carried through by the Church. There had to be absolute peace and quiet during the Christmas days, thirteen days from December 25 till January 6. The population did not quite understand these restrictions, they had always been eating and drinking and having fun during the jule period - there was nothing wrong about that in their opinion.
The clergy also made an attempt to change the word Jul into Kristmesse (Christ Mass) but in Denmark the old name Jul continued to exist. From year 1200 Jul was named Christmas in England. For a long time the Danish jul was a mixture of pagan and catholic belief. People went to church - but after church they went home to celebrate solstice in the old way. In 1536 came the reformation and about 150 years later the pietism, the strict doctrine about piety. The old pagan marked jul was partly suppresssed.

Keldby Church, Møn

Old Customs in the village

December 25 was one of the most peaceful and quiet days of the year where people went to church to sacrifice - not to the pagan gods - but to the vicar and the parish clerk. The rest of the day they stayed indoors having a cosy time. No one was visiting.

December 26 was a day of fun in the village. When the midnight bell stroke between the 25-26 december people pretended to go to sleep, but no one really slept - it was important to get up early to avoid being the last one. The last one up was given the nickname St. Stephan's Fool the next year. As soon as everyone was up and dressed Stephan had to be chased out. The farm-guys had to muck out and sweep the stables, but before that the farm-girls had hidden the dung-barrow and the other tools. The guys had been busy hiding the girls' brooms, scrubbing brushes and other cleaning tools. When the girls finally found their tools and had finished cleaning the guys messed up the floor so they had to start all over again - and it all happened in a good-natured manner. At last they all stopped teasing and finished chasing out Stephan in house and stable and went seeking adventure in the village. If they came to a place where people were still sleeping they blocked the door and the chimney. And if they wanted to go further the guys dragged carriage parts and tools up upon the roof ridge. Such fun is today connected to New Year's Eve. When the young people came home after the fun the farm wife had baked a big square Stephan's cake to the hungry guys and girls.

Keldby Church, Møn

December 27 on the third day of Christmas people began little by little their daily work, but the servants had the day off from noon and went out to "Julestue". The farm girls might on Dec. 27 invite the farm-guys to a "pigegilde" (girls' party) with games and dance. In this feast the girls were allowed to - without losing respect - ask the guys for a dance.

December 28 was a memorial day for the Slaughter of the Innocents. This day the farms had to do their necessary daily work - although the day was considered a half church festival. In the afternoon and evening there was a farm guys party where the guys arranged a feast for the young farm girls.

Elmelunde Church, Møn

December 29. On the 5th day of Christmas the "Julestue" continued, people arranged games and plays. The entertainment often delivered a sting against the Church and the Lord of the Manor. If they played "Julebisp" (Christmas bishop) one was dressed as a bishop in a white shirt and the others sacrificed nuts and apples to him. If the "bishop" was not satisfied with the gifts he slapped them in the face with a wet dishcloth.

December 30. On the 6th day of Christmas it was still Julehelg /(a holy Christmas day) -but first after people had finished the farm work. In the evening they gathered for playing Julebuk. (billy-goat) "Bukken" was a guy who was dressed up as a billy-goat - or as the devil himself. He went from farm to farm making fun and saying odd sounds. The children were scared of this odd creature.

Many games from those days have not been mentioned but they were often crude or had magic and erotic overtones.

Fanefjord Church, Møn

December 31. This evening there was a real feast on every farm - like on Christmas Eve - but New Year's Eve was much more turbulent. The evening meal was almost like on Christmas Eve but in some places they had also dried cod and the dining table was decorated with a two-branched candle. After dinner it was about going out to have some fun. First the farm girls went off and then the farm guys. They were busy - they had to go to every farm in the village and surroundings. If they had an old gun they fired blanks - or else they brought empty buckets and rumlepotter (jars covered with pig's bladder and with a quill stucked in). When they rubbed the quill the pot gave an infernal row. In some places people dressed up and everywhere was lots of noise and racket. The farm people had to catch all the young trouble makers and invite them into their house to have lots of æbleskiver (apple cakes fried in a special pan) , beer and snaps.

Voer Church, Jutland

Source: Ruth Gunnarsen: Familiens Højtider i gamle dage.

Photo 2002/2003: grethe bachmann

No comments: