Gather ’round the hearth, my friends! I have been gone for quite some time wandering about gathering some much-needed fresh air, but now it is time for me to return and share a story—and given the time of year, I’d say a tale about Yule is in order! Last year, we talked about how the Yule of Old was celebrated in mid-January, but many folk today celebrate Yule (both old and new) around Christmas time; some folk celebrate Yule on the Winter Solstice (which is today, the 21st), while others align it with the 25th (which is soon). Either way, this is a splendid time to share stories about Yule, since the holiday spirits are high and plentiful this time of year!
Today’s tale comes from Egil’s Saga, which I highly recommend reading in full, if you haven’t already. It was composed in the early 13th century and is primarily about the complex figure of Egil Skallagrimsson who (throughout his life) was both a brutal Viking warrior and a sensitive poet who lamented loss with beautiful poetry. Our tale begins in chapter 68, when Egil sails to meet with his good friend Arinbjorn:
At this time, which was shortly after the death of King Erik Blood-axe, Arinbjorn was living in Norway (somewhere in Fjordane). When Egil arrived there on his ship from Iceland, they greeted each other with great warmth. Arinbjorn then invited Egil to stay with him for awhile, along with whatever companions he pleased (which was regarded as a generous move). While staying there, Egil had a very ornate sail (fit for a longship) made for his friend Arinbjorn. He gave this to him as a gift, along with other things of worth, before spending some time south in Sognefjord.
After some time, Arinbjorn held a great Yule feast for his friend and neighbors from the district—he was regarded as exceptionally generous and firm of character. The saga simply says that “it was a splendid feast and well attended,” but even from such a brief description we know that it was a feast filled with fine foods and mead—happy faces, laughing friends, and the sound of harps dancing with the crackling flames of the hearth.
During this merry feast, Arinbjorn gave Egil his customary Yuletide gift: a silk gown with ornate gold embroidery and gold buttons that went all the way down the front—it was even cut specifically to fit Egil’s frame. But this was only the centerpiece of Arinbjorn’s Yuletide gifts to Egil, for Arinbjorn also gave him a complete set of clothes cut from English cloth of many colors. While Egil certainly received the finest gifts that night, it was said that Arinbjorn gave “all manner of tokens of friendship at Yuletide to the people who visited him.” Now that’s the Yuletide spirit, my friends!
Egil was so moved by Arinbjorn’s kindness that he composed a verse:
“From kindness alone
that noble man gave the poet
a silk gown with gold buttons;
I will never have a better friend.
Selfless Arinbjorn has earned
the stature of a king
— or more. A long time will pass
before his like is born again.”
The saga tells us no more about Arinbjorn’s Yule feast, but it is clear that it was among the best that there could ever be (whether preserved in memory or imagined so by the author of a later time).
Although our tale was short, it was certainly heartfelt and warm. But for this Yuletide, be like Arinbjorn, if you can; remember to be good and hospitable to your friends and neighbors. If you cannot afford the fine gifts that Arinbjorn gave away at his lavish feast, at least give the gift of kindness that caused Egil to compose such a lovely poem about his dear old friend.
Gleðileg jól, kæru vinir mínir!
Good Yule, my dear friends!
— ᚠᛁᚯᚱᚿ (Fjörn)
Did you enjoy this tale? Share your thoughts in a comment below!
Want to read this saga yourself? Buy a copy here! (It would make Gunnar Hnefataflsson proud!)
This tale was retold from the following source:
Bernard Scudder trans., Egil’s Saga (London: Penguin Classics, 2002), 146. [Chapter 68]