From Middle English yol, from Old English ġeōl, ġeola, either cognate with or from Old Norse jól, from Proto-Germanic *jehwlą, from Proto-Indo-European *yekə- ("joke, play"), related to Proto-Indo-European *yek- ("to speak, utter"). Cognate with Gothic 𐌾𐌹𐌿𐌻𐌴𐌹𐍃 and English joke; see also and .
In pre-Christian times, the term designated the two-month midwinter season (December and January). After Christianization, it became a narrower reference to the twelve days of Christmas.
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