Christmas ham

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A traditional Christmas ham in modern Sweden.

A Christmas ham or Yule ham is a traditional ham dish associated with modern Christmas, Yule and Fennoscandian Jul. It is a ham from a pig that has been cured and sometimes smoked, that is cooked either in the oven or boiled (the broth is often saved for Christmas Eve to be used as a sop). It is traditionally in the Nordic countries coated with a layer of mustard mixed with eggs and breaded with breadcrumbs.

The tradition is suggested to have begun among the Germanic peoples as a tribute to Freyr, a god in Germanic Paganism associated with boars, harvest and fertility.[1] It was later popularized by the Catholic Church as a test of truthful conversion from Judaism. Backsliding Marranos would decline to eat the Christmas ham, while authentic converts could enjoy the pig meat with equanimity.[citation needed]


According to some folklorists and historians[2] the Christmas ham's origins in England lay in a:

"...tradition [that] was initiated in all probability on the Isle of Britain by the Anglo-Saxons, although our knowledge of it comes substantially from medieval times....[In ancient Norse tradition] sacrifice carried the intent of imploring Freyr to show favor to the new year. The boar's head with apple in mouth was carried into the banquet hall on a gold or silver dish to the sounds of trumpets and the songs of minstrels."[3]

In Scandinavia and England, Saint Stephen may have inherited some of Freyr's legacy. His feast day is December 26 and thus he came to play a part in the Yuletide celebrations which were previously associated with Freyr (Ingwi in England). In old Swedish art, Stephen is shown as tending to horses and bringing a boar's head to a Yuletide banquet.[4] Both elements are extra-canonical and may be pagan survivals.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ellis Davidson, H.R. Gods And Myths Of Northern Europe (1965) ISBN 0-14-013627-4
  2. ^ Chambers, Edmund Kerchever. The Mediaeval Stage (Page 257) (1903)
  3. ^ Spears, James E. Folklore, Vol. 85, No. 3. (Autumn, 1974), pp. 194-198. JSTOR
  4. ^ Berger, Pamela (1985). The Goddess Obscured: Transformation of the Grain Protectress from Goddess to Saint. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-6723-7. pp. 105-112.

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