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Davis Journal

The Viking contributions to Christmas

Jan 02, 2024 03:10PM ● By Braden Nelsen
Summer in the Greenland coast circa year 1000 by Carl Rasmussen (1875). Courtesy photo

Summer in the Greenland coast circa year 1000 by Carl Rasmussen (1875). Courtesy photo

DAVIS COUNTY—The Vikings that most Davis County residents may be familiar with hail from Viewmont, but their namesake, the fearsome warriors of the north have played a larger role in our modern culture than many people may realize. 

From the days of the week to a handful of the popular superheroes in the media today, to many of the yuletide traditions observed around this time, it seems the Norse influence exceeded their borders in many different ways. The word yule itself even derives from old Norse. Of course, history can be a sticky thing to unravel, but many experts have lent their opinions to the following information.

Christmas Tree/Ornaments

The ancient Norse had a special place in their worship for trees, the legendary Yggdrasil, a great ash tree, connected the nine realms of their belief. This extended to their winter celebration of jól (of which more later), in which evergreen trees, in particular, were seen as a representation of new life, and the return of the green of spring.

Such trees were often decorated with ornaments, baubles, and depictions of Norse gods during the winter months as a way to herald the return of spring, and in hopes that the winter would soon end. 


While the Norse wreath might be different than the one adorning the door of many houses this season, there’s a strong possibility that the practices of the ancient Scandinavians inspired those seen today.

During the winter months, the Norse would often decorate their houses with evergreen boughs made into circles, or, rolled flaming wreathes down hills to symbolize the return of the sun following winter.


The tradition of kissing under the Mistletoe is another time-honored tradition that brings us back to the Norse. As the story goes, Odin and Frigg, of the Norse pantheon, had a favorite child together – Baldr. Frigg was so worried over her son that, as he grew, she went across the world, and made everything, rocks, trees, flowers, and beasts, swear that they would not kill him. She was thorough enough to get a promise from everything except – mistletoe.

Ever the one for mischief, Loki fashioned a dart from mistletoe and tricked Baldr’s brother into killing him. Distraught, Frigg promised her love to any willing to ride the Norse underworld and retrieve him. 

This has long been cited as the inspiration for the use of mistletoe as part of the holidays. Perhaps the kissing beneath the plant is in reference to Frigg promising her love? History has yet to reveal that secret.

Santa Claus

While the name Santa Claus can be easily traced back to Saint Nicholas of Myra, from modern-day Turkey, many of the characteristics associated with the modern interpretation of Old Saint Nick come from the Norse god, Odin.

The two have quite a bit in common – both are bearded old men who have supernatural powers, have animal helpers, associate with dwarves and elves, and both are known to delve out gifts to the well-behaved, and punishments to the naughty. 


Though a somewhat antiquated term, Yule is still commonly associated with Christmas. Yuletide, the Yule log, and other phrases are not uncommon, and all derive from the Norse tradition of Jól. Their celebration, dedicated to the Old Norse pantheon, was intended to bring about the return of spring, as one of the signs of the end of the world in their tradition was a never ending winter.

Regardless of the origins of these traditions, or what holiday they are celebrating, it’s an interesting way to look at them.