The Minnesota Vikings' fight song, with its spirited chant of “Skol Vikings,” serves as a unifying anthem for fans. It also provides a fascinating glimpse into history and Minnesota's connections with Scandinavia.
Every time the word ‘skol' is shouted at an American football game in the U.S. Bank Stadium, it reverberates with centuries of Norse traditions, myths, and the determined spirit of the Vikings.
But have you wondered about the origins of the chant, and of the word?
The word ‘skol' is an Americanisation of the Norwegian ‘skål'. The word is often translated as ‘cheers'.
While that's accurate in terms of when it's used (as a toast), its origins are believed to have a much murkier meaning than you might expect.
Skol and the Minnesota Vikings
The NFL team Minnesota Vikings has a celebratory “fight song” titled “Skol Vikings” which is sung following touchdowns. It goes like this:
‘Skol Vikings' song
Skol Vikings, let's win this game,
Skol Vikings, honor your name,
Go get that first down,
Then get a touchdown.
Rock 'em . . . Sock em
Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!
Go Vikings, run up the score,
You'll hear us yell for more. . .
Skol Vikings, let's go!
“Skol has been in our lexicon since the very beginning of the franchise in 1961,” Vikings Director of Brand and Creative Erin Swartz told WCCO in Minneapolis.
“It was really like a Cheers! Vikings! We’ve scored, we’re celebrating, we’re winning,” added Swartz.
Before games at the U.S. Bank Stadium, the crowd joins in with a chanting of “skol”, led by a drummer. This was inspired by the Icelandic soccer team’s Viking clap, which caught the world’s attention at the Euro 2016 tournament.
Today, “skol” or “skål”, at its most basic, is a toast of good will, and a wish for good health. It's akin to saying “cheers” in English, “salud” in Spanish, or “prost” in German.
Its popularity in America, especially in relation to the Minnesota Vikings, is in no small part due to the franchise embracing it. “Skol Vikings” is simply an alternate way of saying “Go Vikings.”
But the word “skol” itself, like many words with ancient origins, carries the weight of history and culture, reminding us of the deep-seated traditions of the Vikings and the Norse people.
The Viking origins of ‘skål'
The Norse culture and the Vikings, in particular, have a storied history with ritualistic drinking.
Read more: A Timeline of the Viking Age
Elisabeth Rosa Brusin, conservator at Lofotr Viking Museum in Lofoten, told NRK that the custom of toasting was essential for the Vikings: “During religious gatherings or when the Vikings celebrated transitions in life such as birth and death, it was important to toast with beer.”
A mutual toast
The toast took place using a filled cup or bowl with beer, but that vessel was shared among everyone. Everyone would drink from it in turn, starting with those holding the highest rank. The word “skål translates as bowl.
“The word ‘skål' comes from ‘your bowl and my bowl', which was said when passing on the bowl. The whole phrase became abbreviated to ‘skål'”, said Brusin.
This tradition isn’t just consigned to distant history. According to historians, the beer bowl was used at weddings, funerals and baptisms in rural Norway as recently as 100 years ago.
A more macabre meaning?
Some people may consider drinking from a shared bowl to be a little grotesque, but the word may actually have even more grotesque origins. Linguist Sylfest Lomheim said that “skål” is a very old word that also means skull.
“One might imagine that you cut off the head of an enemy, emptied the brain, and filled something tasty in the skull and said ‘skull',” she explained. There is little evidence that such events took place, but it’s a popular interpretation of the meaning.
Whatever its origins, what's undeniable is the way the term “skål” encapsulates the spirit and ethos of the Vikings — the combination of camaraderie, celebration, and reverence.
Read more: Viking Words in the English Language
For the Minnesota Vikings, adopting “skol” wasn't just a nod to the historic Vikings but also a way to inspire that same sense of community, determination, and celebration among fans.
So, the next time you hear the chant “Skol Vikings”, remember it's not just a cheer for a team, but also a salute to history and culture.
Are you a Minnesota Vikings fan? What does the chant mean to you? Let us know in the comments below.