Day 10: Keep the Yule Log Burning.

Christmas is a season for joy and togetherness…laughter…good cheer…light when there is darkness…and warmth.

For hundreds of years, people have looked towards light for a sense of comfort. In the northern reaches of Europe, people would burn a yule log to provide a safe and warm atmosphere when the world outside was dim and obscure of light. With Scandinavian origins, the burning of the Yule log was celebrated all throughout Europe and is a midwinter tradition that still survives today!

Carefully selected to last the entirety of the Yule season, a Yule log was in fact a whole tree! One end of the tree was placed into the large open hearth while the rest was left to stick out into the room. As the days passed, a little more of the log was shifted into the burning fire. The first day it’s placed into the fire, people would pay tribute as they believed it to burn away wrongdoings and bad luck that had come upon them during the year. A small piece of the log was kept and carefully stored so that it would last until the following year when it could be relit with the new log connecting past, present, and future. 

Washington Irving in 1820 once wrote while traveling in England “The Yule log is a great log of wood, sometimes the root of a tree, brought into the house with great ceremony…laid in the fireplace, and lighted with the brand of last year’s log. While it lasted there was great drinking, singing, and telling of tales. Sometimes it was accompanied by…candles, but in the cottage the only light was from the ruddy blaze of the great wood fire.”

There are many superstitions that come with a Yule log. In England they used to cover the Yule log with evergreen wreaths and sprinkle grain and cider over it. People in the Balkans would wrap it in silk and offer it wine. While in Scandinavia they would make promises to last all of the next year similar to our New Year’s resolutions today! The Yule log was special to many cultures as the time when it was lit was in the dead of winter. People would wonder if the Sun and Spring with its warm days and bounty of life and vegetation would ever return. To encourage them to come back, people would look to the Yule log for its heat and comforting glow. The burning of the Yule log would also protect the home and its inhabitants from evil spirits. Tales say that leftover wood that’s turned into a plough would help the crops to grow better while the ashes would also make the fields plentiful.

Traditionally, the Yule log is burned from Christmas Eve until the Twelfth Night when the days grew shorter and people believed the sun had stood still. To encourage the sun to keep moving on, it was important to keep the fire burning. Today, “bringing home the yule” takes on a different meaning in the form of a sweet treat. 

In 1870, a French patissier wanted to invent a new dessert that would replace the more traditional fruit cake consumed during the festive season. His creation? The Buche de Noel or Christmas log! Made of a decadent yellow sponge base, rich chocolate filling, and shaped to look like a log, it was then elaborately decorated with a dark brown buttercream, chocolate shavings, small individual meringue mushrooms, and a sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar for snow. Quite a sight to see and oh so delicious! 

If you don’t have room to burn a whole Yule log modern technology has made it easy for us to experience this time-honored tradition. Enter the internet! You can find a streaming video of a Yule log burning here for your viewing pleasure. If you prefer to have some seasonal music as an accompaniment click here.

Yule logs have long been symbols of merriment and a cause for celebration, and in a year like 2020 I think we could all use a little more joy in our lives. So wether you venture out into the woods looking for your own tree or prefer to go the virtual route, remember to keep the yule log burning and you’re sure to have a wonderful New Year!

Until tomorrow,