Are you familiar with the tradition of the Yule log?
Or perhaps you like to sing the ancient yuletide carols?
Today, “Yule” and “Yuletide” are largely synonymous with “Christmas”, but the meaning behind Yule is quite different from that of our Christian holiday.
The word “Yule” comes from Old English geol, which shares a history with the equivalent word from Old Norse, jól. Both words referred to a midwinter festival centered around the winter solstice, which traditionally marked the halfway point of the winter season.
After the solstice, popularly know as the shortest day of the year, the days once again begin to grow longer, so it’s thought that Yule was a celebration of the re-appearance of the Sun and the fertile land’s rebirth.
Actually, the Celts believed that, for twelve days at the end of December, the sun stood still, which is why the days grew shorter and shorter.
If they could keep yule logs burning bright for those twelve days, then the sun would be persuaded to move again, and make the days grow longer.
The celebration of Yule is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world. The tradition is practiced in many countries and hence several legends are associated with its origin.
Ancient people were hunters and spent most of their time outdoors, and thus the seasons and weather played a very important part in their lives for obvious reasons.
Customs and traditions associated with Yule vary widely but, most commonly, the celebration consisted of a hearty feast and general revelry, which included wassailing (caroling), drinking, and dancing.
Later, when Christianity came to the British Isles, Christians adopted aspects of the pagan festival into a celebration of the birth of Christ.
Then, as Christianity began to spread in the 4th century, the Christmas feast day was set on December 25 by Pope Julius I to align with the Roman pagan holiday Dies natalis solis invicti, “the birthday of the invincible Sun.”
And the rest is history.
Yule Log is a symbol of prosperity and luck, and It is believed, if the tradition is followed with sincerity and devotion, it would bring good health, wealth and productivity in the year ahead.
Burning it in celebration of Yule started well before medieval times, as part of the winter solstice festivities.
The burning of the log was said to keep off evil spirits and hence, people wished for it to burn for as long as possible.
Candles and lights associated with Christmas, meant to symbolize guiding beacons for the Christ child, may have evolved from the Yule log, which was lit to entice the Sun to return as part of the jól (Yule) festival in Scandinavia.
But the Yule log was originally an entire tree, that was carefully chosen and brought into the house with great ceremony.
Families would bring the trunk inside and stick the big end of it into the fireplace, while the rest of the tree stuck out into the room. The Yule log would feed the fire through the 12 Days of Christmas (from Christmas Day through the evening of the 5th of January, known as Twelfth Night).
Nowadays, of course, most people have central heating so it is very difficult to burn a tree.
However, a Yule log is still a Christmas tradition in some cultures, in which a large log is traditionally burned in the fireplace on Christmas Eve.
For example in Provence, France, it is traditional that the whole family helps to cut the log down and that a little bit is burnt each night. If any of the log is left after Twelfth Night, it is kept safe in the house until the next Christmas to protect against lightning! In some parts of The Netherlands, this was also done, but the log had to be stored under a bed while, in some eastern European countries, the log was cut down on Christmas Eve morning and lit that evening.
In any case, the ashes of Yule logs were meant to be very good for plants, and that’s true, because the ash from burnt wood contains a lot of ‘potash’, which helps plant flowers.
But if you throw the ashes out on Christmas day it is supposedly very unlucky!
It is also customary to preserve a small part of the Yule Log until the next year Christmas celebrations.
And, among the superstitions associated with the Yule Log, these are some of the most curious:
The ashes from the Yule Log are capable of protecting the house from natural calamities. When soaked in water, they can provide cure to illness both in case of human beings and animals, and they were also put in the wells to keep the water good.
Yule Logs should not be bought, as they must be gifted or grown.
It is very inauspicious if the Yule Log is touched by a barefooted woman or a squint-eyed man while, If the flames from the Yule Log displayed a shadow without a head, the head of the house was presumed to die within the year.
Moreover, the benefits from burning the Yule Log also differ with the nature of the log: oak has curative qualities and can bring strength and wisdom, Pine symbolizes growth and prosperity and its ash stands for protection, prosperity and goodness of health. Holly is for good sight, birch suggests a new start and willow helps in accomplishing one’s wishes.
For others, Yule log is a log-shape chocolate cake enjoyed as a delicious Christmas dessert.
They are made of a chocolate sponge roll layered with cream. The outside is covered with chocolate or chocolate icing and decorated to look like a bark-covered log. Some people like to add extra decorations such as marzipan mushrooms.
But, as Christmas is coming, If you are in the woodlot, plan to cut some of that white birch into Yule logs for your friends. They can be used in fireplaces or as decor. Tied with red ribbon, they are different than usual Christmas gifts!
The Yule log also makes a great centerpiece for either candles or tea lights.
Images from web – Google Research