Do You Know If These Christmas Traditions Are From Yuletide or Not?



By: Teresa McGlothlin

6 Min Quiz

Image: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / DigitalVision / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Were Advent calendars a part of ancient Yule celebrations? How about lighting candles? If you know which one of those two things have origins rooted in Yuletide, you won't have a problem correctly answering all the questions in this quiz. Many of our modern traditions go back a long way, but do they go back to the ancient Nordic tradition of Yule? You'll really have to think about them when you see them! 

During Yule, villagers in the Scandinavian region and throughout the rest northern Europe gathered to welcome the winter solstice. For 12 days, chasing the darkness out with light was accomplished with many customs that have evolved into the ways we now celebrate. Throughout this quiz, you'll take a trip around the world, and you'll see if you can place the most popular traditions where they began. 

You might think that some of them are easy, but you'll have to think like a Druid or a Viking to get them all correct. Santa Claus might not have always existed, but red and green have been there forever. Will you be able to pick out the Yule traditions correctly, or will you learn something new? Let's find out how well you do!

When we send Christmas cards, are we practicing a Yuletide tradition?

There are many Christmastime traditions that can be traced back to the winter solstice celebration called Yule. Greeting cards are not one of them! Greeting cards did not exist before a Victorian-era gentleman named John Calcott Horsely began sending them in the 1830s.


Were candy canes part of Yuletide?

Ancient cultures didn't have the kitchen equipment needed to make candy canes. The version that we love was created in 1919 by an American named Bob McCormack. Before his adaptation, they go all the way back to a 17th-century choirmaster who gave his singers peppermint candies to keep them quiet.


Do we "deck the halls with boughs of holly" because they did it at Yuletide celebrations?

The tradition of decorating your home with evergreen and holly does go back to Yuletide traditions. But back then, they were not for decorative purposes. The Nordic people believed evergreen and holly had the power to ward off evil.


Yes or no? Christmas bonfires were lit during Yuletide?

Of course, it wasn't called Yuletide back when the ancient Nordic people were setting bonfires. However, it was common to burn the Yule log. Over time, the tradition has evolved into the bonfires that are popular in the American southeast.


Do the 12 nights of Christmas go back to Nordic Yule celebrations?

During medieval times, the 12 nights of Christmas were celebrated by eating one mincemeat pie per night. The idea is borrowed from the Yule traditions of the Nordic people where the Winter Solstice celebrations continued for 12 straight nights.


Can you decide if Yuletide involved making gingerbread houses or not?

During Yule, houses were lined with evergreen boughs, but that was as close as the ancients got to building a gingerbread house. Gingerbread houses dates back to 16th-century Germany.


What about Boxing Day? Does it originate with Yuletide or not?

Boxing Day is widely celebrated on the day after Christmas across the U.K. and Canada. It doesn't date back to Yuletide, but it has been part of British traditions since employers gave servants the gift of a "Christmas Box" to share with their families.


Can Yuletide get the credit for the tradition of having a fire in the Christmas Eve fireplace or not?

Yuletide does get to claim the traditional Christmas Eve fire. During Yuletide, a large log carved with runes was called the Yule log. It was burned to symbolize the battle of good versus evil.


This should be easy! Did Yuletide ever involve a hidden elf?

Elves do have a basis in the region that practiced Yuletide, but they were never part of Yule celebrations. The Elf on a Shelf tradition is a fairly new one. It began in the U.S. state of Georgia during the '70s.


Are poinsettias originally a Yuletide thing or a Mexican thing?

In Mexico, poinsettias are known as "Flowers of the Holy Night." Legend has it that a poor young girl couldn't afford a gift for Jesus. As she walked to the church, she picked a bouquet that later bloomed when she placed the flowers at the altar. Poinsettias were brought to the United States around 1830.


Did the Advent calendar begin with as part of a Yule celebration?

As with many Christmas traditions, Germany gets the credit for the invention of the Advent calendar. During the 19th century, chalk marks were placed on doors to count down the days left until Christmas.


Is the tree topper a Yuletide tradition or not?

Nope! During medieval times, outdoor trees were decorated with fruits and other offerings. The tradition of topping the tree, with a star or otherwise, didn't come along until after the tree became popular. It was meant as a nod to the Star of Bethlehem.


How about Christmas wreaths? Are they from Yuletide?

Christmas wreaths do, in fact, have roots in Nordic Yuletide traditions. Only back then, a giant sun wheel was created from evergreen limbs, set on fire and rolled down a hill. The idea was that the burning wheel would encourage the sun to shine on the village.


Does Christmas ivy have any roots in Yuletide?

In addition to believing that evergreens could ward off evil, Yuletide practitioners believed that ivy also held special powers. Its spiral growth is said to represent rebirth and the return of spring.


How about decorating outdoor trees? Is it a Yuletide tradition?

Outdoor trees were decorated during Yuletide. Instead of using ornaments like we would use now, only natural materials were put on the trees. It was considered an offering to nature.


Did the ancient Nordic people create Christmas crackers?

Christmas crackers are a popular British tradition that dates back to 1840. Candymaker Tom Smith was inspired by a trip to a Paris sweet shop and returned to England where he created the tradition that's now spreading around the world.


Would you say that jingle bells are a part of Yuletide?

Silver bells, jingle bells and church bells are all associated with Christmas. But bells were not part of Yuletide celebrations, though. The bells we associate with the holidays were a way for Catholic churches around the world to signal the start of midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.


Are the cream-filled yule logs on holiday tables from Yuletide or not?

When Yuletide-practicing Scandinavians attended their annual feast, there were probably no yule logs on the table. However, the popular dessert does share its name with the Yuletide tradition of burning the Yule log. It doesn't directly date back that far, but it is an homage to the practice.


True or false? Yuletide included an indoor Christmas tree.

The use of evergreen trees and holly bushes were quite common during Yuletide. They were believed to ward off evil and frequently adorned homes near the time of the winter solstice. Bringing the whole tree inside didn't start until 17th-century Germany.


Did the ancient Nords have a "Christmas Bird Count" during the solstice celebrations of Yule?

The ancient Nordic people may have spent part of Yule hunting for food, but they did not come up with the "Christmas Bird Count." It's a creation of the Audubon Society that now draws more than 70,000 people per year.


Is burning candles a German tradition or a Yule tradition?

Believe it or not, Germany doesn't get credit for the tradition of burning candles. Those observing the solstice continuously worshiped the change of darkness to light. The fire was a huge part of the ceremony.


Were sugar plums part of Yuletide or not?

While sugar plums are more than just a vision, they are not a Yuletide tradition. They were popular treats in medieval England, but their complexity makes them a rarely sighted dessert these days.


Where do you think the use of reds and greens as Christmas colors originated?

Those celebrating Yule in the traditional way believed that holly had the power to ward off evil spirits. The traditional reds and greens we use at Christmastime do go all the way back to Yuletide.


Do you think consuming mince pies is a British tradition or a Yuletide tradition?

Those enjoying the decades of the Edwardian or Georgian eras in the U.K. would have shown off their wealth with fancy-shaped mince pies. Although the Yuletide tradition of feasting was a big ordeal, eating mince pies did not originate there.


Were luminarias part of any Yuletide festivities?

In the southeastern part of the United States, luminarias — originally a Mexican tradition — are a favorite Christmas pastime. It's not uncommon to see luminarias or small fires lighting the way to Christmas Eve church services.


Is it true or false that the tradition of reading a ghost story on Christmas Eve began at Yuletide?

It's false! The origins of the Christmas Eve ghost story are still up for debate, but there's no evidence of it before the Tudor and Victorian eras. They didn't do a whole lot of reading back before paper was invented.


Yuletide or not? Did the practice of gift-giving come from Yule customs?

The act of gift-giving seems to have no historical origins. Gifts have been given to show allegiance to the king, as peace offerings between Nordic clans and as a way to express goodwill. There are records of gift-giving, albeit a stone or a shell, that date all the way back to Yuletide.


Where did the tradition of hiding a pickle originate?

Hiding a glass pickle was never part of a Yuletide celebration, and it isn't a German tradition either. There are stories of the glass pickle tracing back to the 1900s in Germany, but the alleged tradition didn't start until Americans started buying them. No one's really sure how it became a thing.


True or false? Caroling has roots in Yuletide celebrations.

Wassailing may have roots in Yuletide, but caroling does not. Caroling dates back to the 4th century when practitioners of Christianity would walk around town singing about the Nativity.


Did they go wassailing during Yuletide or not?

Wassailing is a little like caroling, only there was more alcohol involved. Wassailing is an old Anglo-Saxon custom that involved singing and drinking a concoction made from cider, nutmeg and a handful of other ingredients.


Is it true or false that hanging mistletoe is a Yuletide tradition?

Yuletide traditions do involve bring evergreen boughs inside, but hanging mistletoe traces back to the Greek festival of Saturnalia. Mistletoe's association with fertility outweighs the fact that word translates to "poo on a stick."


Do you think the holiday ham is a Victorian tradition or a Yuletide tradition?

Victorians may have served a holiday ham, but the tradition originates from the Yuletide festivities practiced in Scandinavian countries. Back then, a wild boar was harvested from the forest.


Where does the holiday custom of cake throwing come from?

Are you looking for something to do with all that leftover fruitcake? In the Italian village of Pienza, holiday partygoers participate a game of toss the panforte. It's a tournament that lasts for four days.


Does eliminating meat from your Christmas Eve diet date back to Yuletide?

During the Tudor era, Christmas Eve was spent decorating with natural elements like holly sprigs and evergreen boughs. As opposed to Yuletide feasts, participants were not permitted to eat meat, eggs or cheese.


Can Yuletide claim credit for the tradition of hanging stockings?

Stockings became a popular Christmas tradition around the year 300 A.D. — long after Yuletide. According to the story, Saint Nicholas took pity upon a poverty-stricken family and threw bags filled with gold coins down the chimney. On the way down, some of them landed in the children's stockings.


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