Winter Solstice: What’s Yule, Saturnalia & Nardugan?

Winter Solstice: What’s Yule, Saturnalia & Nardugan?

When it comes to December, many people think of events such as Christmas, Yule, Saturnalia, New Year’s Eve and Nardugan. So do they have anything to do with each other?

Winter Solstice: What’s Yule, Saturnalia & Nardugan?

What is Yule?

Yule, also known as Jul or Jól, was one of the ancient pagan festivals celebrated in winter. It was mostly popular in Scandinavian, Germanic and Celtic communities. Researchers think that the origins of Yule date back to ancient Scandinavian communities.

When is Yule and Yuletide Season?

Yule was a festival celebrated between November and January, or between January and February, according to some ancient sources. Most people today generally agree that it starts on December 21 and ends on January 1. Yuletide Season is the name of this 12-day period. In the Southern Hemisphere, this period coincides with the month of July. However, many researchers think that these dates were changed during the reign of Norwegian king Håkon in the 10th century.

Swedish archaeologist Andreas Nordberg wrote that the Norwegian king Håkon changed the Yule date in the 10th century. As a Christianization policy… According to Nordberg, pre-Christian Scandinavian communities used a lunar calendar. That’s why the Yule date was changing every year. Ancient Scandinavian communities celebrated Yule on the first full moon after the new moon following the winter solstice. For this reason, Yule was in January in some years and in early February in some years. However, King Håkon fixed the Yule dates to the same dates as Christmas in order to facilitate the Christianization of the society. 1

According to pre-Christian tradition, in the 2021/2022 season, Yule falls on January 18, 2022.

Yule Traditions

Yule has become localized in many communities over time and has acquired distinctive features. Today, wiccans and neopagan groups also celebrate Yule. Getting together, having fun and giving gifts are the most common traditions for Yule. Celebrations often take place around the bonfire. The bonfire can last for days thanks to the large Yule logs.

Yule log cake for yule celebration.

Another Yule tradition is to decorate homes and surroundings with pine branches, mistletoe or holly. Many researchers think that some present-day Christmas traditions come from Yule traditions.

What is Saturnalia?

Saturnalia is the name of a winter festival of the Ancient Romans. The dates of the Saturnalia were changed by different emperors, but it was usually celebrated between 17 and 25 December. For this reason, folklorists consider Saturnalia one of the winter solstice festivals in Eurasia.

Saturnalia was a festival held in honor of the Roman god Saturn. Schools and public institutions were closed during the festival. Social rules were relaxed. The hierarchical master-slave pattern would disappear for a few days. Roman citizens would organize meals, sing songs and drink. They would light candles to symbolize the return of light. Neighbors would give each other small gifts.

Candles symbolize the return of light.

The Saturnalia festivals lasted until the 4th century. After the Roman emperor Constantine accepted Christianity, the Saturnalia festivals disappeared over time.

What is Nardugan?

Nardugan means rising sun in Old Turkic. The word “nar” means the sun, and the word “dugan” means to rise.

There are debates as to whether the word “nar” was transferred from Turkic to Mongolian or from Mongolian to Turkic. However, etymologists think that the word is of Mongolian origin. Today, the Mongols call the Sun “Nar” and the Hungarians “Nap”. However, Turkic communities mostly use the words “Gün / Kün / Güneş” or “Kuyaş / Koyaş“.

When is Nardugan?

According to Turkish sumerologist Muazzez İlmiye Çığ and Russian turcologist Murad Adji, ancient Turks celebrated Nardugan on December 21. 2 We know that December 21 is the winter solstice and after this date the days begin to lengthen. According to some Turkic communities, this is a prelude to the Sun’s victory over night. Zübeyr Batur, a retired pilot from the Turkish Air Force and research writer, also said that the Turks celebrated Nardugan on December 21.

Kutlu Altay Kocaova has a different view on when the Turks celebrate Nardugan. According to Kocaova, Nardugan is the other name of Nevruz in the Chuvash, one of the Christian Turkic communities. Ancient Turks usually celebrate Nevruz in March and consider it the first day of the new year. Therefore, we can say that the Chuvash used “Nardugan” to mean New Year’s Eve.

Nardugan Celebrates

According to Çığ, Nardugan is one of the most important holidays of the ancient Turks. The Turks interpreted the lengthening of the days as a victory for the Sun. However, some authors wrote that Nardugan is actually the other name of Nowruz. Some historians, on the other hand, argued that Nardugan spread among the Turks as a result of cultural interaction.

Çığ and Adji have argued that Nardugan has similarities with Noel. According to this view, ancient Turks pray to Ülgen, the god of kindness and mercy, in gratitude for the victory of the Sun over the night. As claimed in shamanic prayers, Ülgen is also the creator of the Sun.

Turkic and Proto-Turkic communities considered the Sun sacred, like many pagan communities. In fact, Turkish writer Doğan Avcıoğlu wrote that the Hun emperors worshiped the Sun in the morning. 3 Therefore, solstice or equinox celebrations like Nardugan do not constitute a contradiction to old Turkic beliefs.

For More: Okunev Petroglyphs And Eurasian Solar Deities

Çığ said that the Turks decorated the pine trees, which symbolize the tree of life, in Nardugan. However, Turkic communities usually depicted the tree of life in the form of beech.

We know that the tree cult is crucial in Turks. For example, ancient Turks used juniper branches and juniper incense to drive away spirits. They planted cypress trees in some graves. In addition, Turkic communities believed that trees helped to convey prayers to God. Therefore, it is a very common tradition to pray under the trees. So, it seems possible to prefer under the trees to pray in Nardugan. It is a reasonable explanation that people decorate evergreen trees such as pines because it is winter.

In Turkic mythology, many trees are considered sacred.

What are the Nardugan Traditions?

It is said that in Nardugan the most popular custom is to pour some kumiss on the ground for God Ülgen and to leave offerings at the bottom of the trees. Writing wishes on colorful pieces of cloth and hanging them on trees is a very popular tradition even among Turks today. Some researchers think that this may form the basis of today’s tree decoration traditions.

A common tradition related to Nardugan in today’s Turks is to eat pomegranate and drink pomegranate wine. “Nar” means “pomegranate” in Turkish. Therefore, it evokes Nardugan. Pomegranate also symbolized fertility and richness. Because of this, it has become a common tradition to eat pomegranates for a fruitful new year. However, the regions where pomegranate trees grow remain in the south of the old Turkish cultural geography. Therefore, this tradition appeared in Turkish folklore in later times.

Most of the information and traditions about Nardugan have reached today through myths. There is no such information in any of the old sources. This causes many historians to question the existence of Nardugan.

Who is Ayaz Ata?

Ayaz Ata is the Turkic variant of Ded Moroz in Slavic folklore. There are two important views on its origin. According to the first view, Ayaz Ata is a fictional character inspired by Ded Moroz in Russian folklore. It has appeared in Turkic folklore later. Today, it is seen as a variant of Santa Claus.

According to the other view, Ayaz Ata is a character created by adapting Ayas Han in Turkic mythology to the present. He is made up of moonlight. His name comes from the Moon.

Today, the word ayas/ayaz, which means dry cold in Turkish, is derived from “ay-“, which means moon. In old Turkish dictionaries, “ayas” means clear, moony and cold weather.

The winter season begins when Ayas Han blows the cold air in his mouth. 4


  1. Andreas NORDBERG, Jul, Disting Och Förkyrklig Tideräkning, 2006, ISBN 91-85352-62-4^
  2. Мурад Аджи – Кипчаки. Древняя история тюрков и Великой Степи, 1999, ISBN 5-88149-044-4^
  3. Doğan AVCIOĞLU, Türklerin Tarihi, ISBN: 9789754780208^
  4. Deniz KARAKURT, Türk Söylence Sözlüğü^