Swedish word of the day: jul

Swedish word of the day: jul
Are you excited for jul? Image: nito103/Depositphotos
The festive season is well and truly upon us, so what better time to take a look at the Swedish word for Christmas?

That word is jul, which you'll hear in the greeting God Jul! (Merry Christmas!) and as a prefix added to just about any noun or word to give it a festive feel, such as julsång (Christmas song), julstämning (Christmas atmosphere), julshoppa (to shop for Christmas gifts and items), julmat (Christmas food), julstäda (to clean the house for Christmas)… we could go on.

And on and on: if there's one thing Swedes enjoy more than holiday preparations, it's creating compound words. Another option is to turn jul into an adjective: julig means 'Christmassy'.

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English speakers might spy a resemblance to the outdated term ‘yule’, and there are related words in most Nordic languages: Norwegian and Danish jul, Icelandic jól, and Finnish joulua. All these words do indeed share an origin in Old Norse jól and can be traced further back to similar words in proto-Germanic languages.

In both English and Swedish today, jul/yule is a specific reference to Christmas: the Christian holiday and the surrounding season.

But that wasn’t always so.

The meaning of older forms of the word jul were used to define different parts of the winter season depending on where in Sweden or Scandinavia the speaker was located.

In fact, language historians aren't sure exactly where it originally came from or what it meant in the earliest times, whether it was always linked to a specific festival or feast, or started out as a more general term for the winter season. The only thing that's known for certain is that it predates the celebration of Christian Christmas, and that you'll hear it a lot throughout December in Sweden.


Jul, jul, strålande jul, glans över vita skogar

Christmas, Christmas, brilliant Christmas, shine over white forests (lyrics to a beloved wintery tune)

Snart är det jul!

It's nearly Christmas!

Do you have a favourite Swedish word you would like to nominate for our word of the day series? Get in touch by email or if you are a Member of The Local, log in to comment below.


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