While many Americans burn fires in their fireplaces or wood-burning stoves during the holidays, the Yule log is an old Christmas tradition that most Americans really don’t celebrate. So what is the Yule log?
In medieval times, before Christianity became widespread, people in Northern Europe would burn the Yule log on the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, to keep the evil spirits away during the prolonged darkness. As Christianity spread throughout Europe, the burning of the Yule log became associated with Christmas, the Twelve Days of Christmas (the days between Christmas and Epiphany, Jan. 6) and/or Twelfth Night (Epiphany).
The Yule log tradition involves the men going on a journey to find the yule log. Originally, the men would choose a large tree, so it would burn the longest and provide the most warmth. The type of tree chosen depended upon the country – oak in England, birch in Scotland and cherry in France. The entire tree was brought home with great ceremony. The largest end of the log was placed in the fireplace and burned while the rest of the tree stuck out into the room. The fire would be started using the remains of the previous year’s Yule log. The fire was kept burning for at least 12 hours or each day throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Some specific Yule log celebrations included:
- Feasting and drinking ale in Scandinavia, where the Yule log tradition is believed to have originated. “Jol” or “Jule” (pronounced “Yule”) was a Solstice festival that honored the Norse god, Odin.
- Singing of songs as the tree was brought home in England and Provence, France.
- Decorating the wood with flowers and colored silks and gold in Yugoslavia. Then the log was doused in wine and lighted.
In many countries, the unburned portion of the log was kept until the next year – often in the house and, in some parts of Holland, stored under a bed. Any leftover ashes would be scattered over the fields for fertility or thrown down the well to purify the water.
As part of your holiday celebrations this year, why not consider creating your own Yule log celebration. Purchase seasoned logs to burn along with evergreens. If you don’t have a fireplace, many cable or satellite networks offer a channel that shows a fire burning while Christmas music plays. Or, bake a chocolate Yule log cake, called a bûche de Noël in France.
During this Christmas season all of us at T.J.’s Chimney Service would like to wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and many blessings in the coming New Year.