viking shipFootball season is upon us – admittedly, my favorite time of year. I’m a die-hard, third-generation Washington Redskins fan (something few folk will admit to this season), and I have to wonder – without football, what did the poor Vikings do back in the day? How did they pass their time? Keep in mind I’m talking about real Vikings, not the Minnesota Vikings.

I had to research this for a scene in Odin’s End. It’s Julfest – the pagan celebration that was later engineered to coincide with Christmas.

Rorik has captured Adele and her monk buddies. Adele must pretend to be a volva – a seeress. She must now deliver Rorik’s war strategies disguised as prophecies. She does this for the first time in front of Sverre, the would-be king of Norway.

But it’s a festival, and there’s all kind of partying going on….

  • In one game, warriors passed a drinking horn around. Each warrior took a draught, and any warrior deemed to be drinking too “cautiously” was penalised and forced to drink more.
  • In other drinking games, warriors well into their cups competed to see who would take the most solemn oath, or who delivered the best toast, or who could perform best in a “comparison of men.” (Basically, who could brag about themselves the best or, alternately, who could insult someone else the best.)
  • The warriors played a form of hockey, where they pushed around a ball on ice. Both the infirm and the overly aggressive were prevented from playing.
  • Board games. Games such as tafl and skaktafl (chess) were immensely popular.
  • Storytelling was a big one, too. Chieftains employed skalds to entertain their guests with tales of the king’s victories, or with stories and legends of the gods, or with songs.

There are tons more, of course – and keep in mind that I’ve only covered games that Adele comments on during Julfest. She hasn’t been to a Viking wedding (yet) and she hasn’t seen the Easter and summer festivals. So she has a few surprises to witness….!