Words about words
M. MICHAEL BRADY
Romjul is the period in the Norwegian calendar that starts on the third day of Christmas, Dec. 27, and ends on New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31.
The word romjul comes from the Old Norse adjective rúmheilagr, which is in the Dictionary of the Old Norse Language (Reference). The definition of that word starts with the statement that rúmheilagr is not sanctified, which sets it apart from other words specific to Christmastide, the festival season of the liturgical year in most Christian churches.
The equivalent expression in Britain, but not in America, is “Boxing Week.” It’s the week after Christmas that includes “Boxing Day,” which entered English in 1833, designating “The first weekday after Christmas day, observed as a holiday on which postal carriers, errand runners, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas box.”
There are similar secular expressions in the other Scandinavian languages. The Danish word juleferie (“Yule vacation”) is calendrical, because it designates a way to have a vacation within Christmastide without missing many workdays. The Swedish word mellandagarna (literally “intermediate days”) is idiomatic and not specific to Christmastide.
In Norway, romjul is a tranquil time of the year when families get together, undisturbed by the outside world. By tradition, for families with children, it’s the season for baking and building gingerbread houses to be smashed and eaten by New Year’s Day.
Reference: Ordbog over det gamle norske Sprog (Dictionary of the Old Norse Language) by Johan Fitzner, Kristiania 1867, Feilberg & Landmark, 920 pages hardcover, National Library of Norway online searchable version link: www.nb.no/nbsok/nb/4552850110752bcf0fdbcca272b5640d#0 (in Norwegian)
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 25, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.