Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Yule Log

The custom of burning the Yule log is said to be the oldest Christmas tradition which actually started before the birth of Christ.  It began as a celebration of the the Winter Solstice or Yule, the darkest time of the year and,  as such,  was treated as sacred time by our ancestors for it meant that  light would once again return to the world. Traditionally, the log is made of ash and is lit on the eve of the solstice with a piece of wood kept from the previous year.    It is then burnt for 12 hours.  The ancient Druids believed that the sparks from a burning log carried their wishes for a prosperous New Year to the gods.

The custom of the Yule Log is from Norway. The ancient Norwegians believed the sun was returning making this a sacred time for them; hence,  they would bring home large logs to burn in recognition of this time. The boars' head feast that happened along with the bonfire would continue until  the logs burned out entirely...with each spark said to represent a new calf or piglet that would  be born that year. They also indulged in the first wine and beer of the year as well at Yule. At the feast, the Norse would drink toasts to Odin, Njoror and Freyr, for victory, peace and good harvests, and then to whoever happened to be king at the time.

Alas, I have never had a real Yule Log despite the fact that it is one of my favorite parts of Yule.  I just have never had a fireplace.  I was really excited when I saw the ad for the apartment I live in now for it mentioned a bedroom fireplace.  Unfortunately,  what the ad had neglected to  mention was that the chimney and the fireplace had been boarded up many years ago, and although I still have the mantle and the mirror above it, I have a non-working fireplace.  (Sigh)

Fortunately, though, I will be enjoying a Yule Log....albeit, one of the chocolate variety.  From what I gather, it was sometime during the 19th century the Yule Log became a dessert. French confectioners called  the cake "Buche De Noel". In most countries this cake is stylised much like a Swiss roll and is covered in chocolate icing giving it the appearance of a log;  the internal cake is often layered with butter cream. The cake is then decorated with Christmas themed objects such as Holly, fondant leaves, berries, and other outdoorsy decorations.. This version of Yule log is now better known than the ancient tradition that emulates.

There are some Christmas traditions such as ribbon candy have followed me since childhood, but the chocolate Yule Log is one begun with my new family, and hopefully, my sons will carry it on.  So, without fail, at 12 midnight on Christmas Eve, the log is cut, and hungry or not, everyone must take a bite, for it brings love and luck throughout the year.  
Within the hall are song and laughter,
  The cheeks of Christmas glow red and jolly,
And sprouting is every corbel and rafter
  With the lightsome green of ivy and holly;
Through the deep gulf of the chimney wide
Wallows the Yule-log's roaring tide;
The broad flame-pennons droop and flap
  And belly and tug as a flag in the wind;
Like a locust shrills the imprisoned sap,
  Hunted to death in its galleries blind;
And swift little troops of silent sparks,
  Now pausing, now scattering away as in fear,
Go threading the soot-forest's tangled darks
  Like herds of startled deer.
--James Russell Lowell, from 'The Vision of Sir Launfal--


  1. ~i love the thought of a chocolate yule log and the tradittion you have with your family...may just have to wake my little this year for the same great fun...i am sure yours will remember and carrying on this tradition...much l♥ve and light upon you and yours~

  2. Such a good idea...a chocolate Yule Log! Yummy! I don't have a fireplace either Mary, but I use a candle each year to represent it...saving one last little bit of the candle to relight the new one each year. Some years ago at one of the rituals I held at Yule a dear friend brought a log her husband had created for had three holes bored into it where she could place three candles into it, using of course, red, green and white. She had it decorated with holly and berries and a bit of pine and it was very pretty. I've always wanted to do that but have never accomplished it. By the time I think about it Yule is upon me and no time to find the wood and get 'er done, lol!
    Too bad your fireplace is all closed but the mantle I bet is beautiful! You could put a large candle in the fireplace part and burn it?
    Do have a bite of your Yule Log for me at the stroke of midnight...
    Sending you love this day!

  3. True Story.......I wanted and have a working fireplace.
    When we had it built we burned wood logs.
    Then we added a gas line to it and had gas logs burning.
    Then the ferrets moved in and we had a piece of plexiglass cut to fit it and have it duct taped up so that the ferrets can't get inside it and get filthy.
    Now Jill is setting the tree up in front of it!
    hmmmm I have a fireplace, BUT I DON'T! :0)
    Can't win.
    Thanks for sharing the highlights of your Christmas m/f.

  4. LOVE this post! Love the Yule Log and love the fact that this post points out, that it is one of the things, of "The Old Ways"!!! Yessss!

    Pardon me but I get so tired of how some Christians act like they "invented" so many parts of this Season's happenings. :-(

    Nope, I'm not Pagan or Christian, so I guess I "don't have a horse, in this race." But I still get tired of it. -chuckle-