Blood on the walls. 300 to 500 guests. Three days of partying. Vikings made a blast when they celebrated Midwinter Blot.
The English word Christmas is closely related to the Christian faith. The Scandinavian word for the same holiday is Jul. The use of that word–or rather Jól–can be traced back to before Christianity came to the North. And back to before the Vikings.
So how did the Vikings celebrate Christmas (or Jól)?
According to this article (in Norwegian) Vikings probably celebrated Jól when the days turned longer–when the gods brought the sun back–and it was celebrated as a blót and a large party.
Blót was a sacrifice of animals. Everyone brought sprigs and sprayed the walls–inside and out–with the blood of the sacrificed animals. People were sprayed too.
Toasts were made to Odin for victory and power, to Njord and Frøy for a good farming year and for peace, and to Brage in the memory of lost friends. Blóts were also held at Midsummer and on other important days.
The party was probably held by the chieftain who invited all the local farmers to a potluck–everyone brought something to the party–and 300 to 500 people would party for three days.
Meat and beer were central to the party. The meat was boiled on fireplaces at the center of the party and the beer was poured generously.
Poems and songs
The Vikings were an oral people. They did not write down their stories, they told them to each other. Parties like Jól would be a perfect time to captivate hundreds of people with tales of the gods and of conquests and great achievements.
Long and great poems would be told of kings, queens, jarls, and chieftains. Music and songs would also be a central part of the party.
The Jól party was probably held around the shortest days and longest nights of the year. In Scandinavia that meant very short days (in some areas to the far north there were no days at all) and very long nights. If one prayed to the gods they might turn the season around and grant longer days again.
We know today that the longer days will come back every Winter, but for the Vikings, there was always the fear of the Fimbulvinter, the harsh Winter that comes before the end of the world.