After visiting the wintry lands of Hobbits, Rohirrim, and Dwarves, we set sail for lands to the west before once more returning to the shores of Middle-earth.
The island of Númenor was created for the Edain, the Fathers of Men, by the Valar. On the ‘Land of Gift’, ‘Mettarë’ was the name for the day at ‘the ending of the year’ and ‘Yestarë’ for New Year’s day. Though the Númenórean new year began in spring, and not at the winter solstice like most other cultures in Middle-earth, they had a tradition that is closely aligned with the Yule holiday.
When the Númenóreans who were great shipwrights set sail for Middle-earth, they had a custom of placing a branch of the fragrant Oiolairë tree called the ‘Green Bough of Return’ on the bow of their ships before casting off. The bough was thought to ensure that the ship and crew would return safely to their home harbor after the long voyage. This symbolic evergreen branch is reminiscent of the pine wreaths and garlands that deck the halls during winter celebrations when we return home for the holidays.
The Dúnedain in the Northern Kingdom of Middle-earth began their Yule at Winter Solstice, and this timing was what the Hobbits adopted1. It is not mentioned in the Lord of the Rings that a Yule festival was celebrated in Gondor or Arnor, but the Dúnedain may have borrowed from the traditions of the Elves that visited the island of Westernesse, and once in Middle-earth, the influence of festivities held in the Shire may have been added to their celebrations. Imagine the white streets of Minas Tirith glowing with candlelight and decorated with winter greenery, while good cheer from the pubs echoes up and down the seven levels of the city.
The Eldar named the last day of the year ‘Quantarië’, ‘Day of Completion’,
or ‘Oldyear’s Day’, and the first of the year was called ‘Vinyarië’, or
‘New Year’s Day’.1
The Elves aren’t seen celebrating Yule in The Lord of the Rings, but in happier times before the forging of the rings, when Elves and Dwarves worked together, the Elves planted two holly trees, a traditional representation of the winter holiday, on either side of the West-gate of Moria. These huge, old holly trees are still there when the Fellowship of the Ring arrives. Also, when the Fellowship stops for a rest in Hollin, a realm of the Ñoldorin Elves during the Second Age near Moria, a bit of remaining Elvish goodness brings them cheer as they shelter and take a meal surrounded by the holly bushes that still grow there.
In Tolkien’s The Book of Lost Tales*, the Elves on the island of Tol Eressëa off the coast of Aman celebrated a winter festival called Turuhalmë or ‘Log-Drawing’.2 There is no exact day given, yet the chapter “The Calendars” in The People’s of Middle-earth mentions that the solstices are a meaningful time for the Elves. The morning was passed with snow sports, and later in the day, logs were gathered onto sleighs and brought back to warm the ‘Room of the Tale-fire’. The evening was filled with ‘songs and drinking…[and] old tales beside the fire’ which was blessed with ancient magic so that it ‘roared and flared’.2
This time of year in Middle-earth was one of merriment and feasting, aglow with hearth fires and warm hearts. And so, from all of us at TheOneRing.net, we wish that your holiday is as merry as a Hobbit’s, as splendid as the Elves’, and as full of cheer as that of the Dwarves, Rohirrim, and Men. To all a merry Yule and a happy, healthy New Year!
1 The Peoples of Middle-earth, “The Calendars”
2 The Book of Lost Tales: Part 1, “Gilfanon’s Tale: The Travails of the Noldoli”
* Note: The Book of Lost Tales is not strictly considered canon.
Editor Note: Throughout the month, and as part of our Tolkien Advent Calendar celebration, we have been featuring news and resources for fans of J.R.R. Tolkien, his worlds and works. Today’s complete official advent calendar is below!