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What Is A Yule Log

Updated on September 11, 2012

The Yule Log

The Yule Log Tradition

The tradition of burning a Yule log precedes the onset of Christianity. Many years in the past, a Yule log was burned around the Winter Solstice. Since the days were so short during this time of the year, the burning of the log represented the light of the sun. Then came Christianity, which turned this symbolic event into a representation of the light of the Savior. The log was also instead burned on Christmas Eve.

With many different twists, the tradition of burning a Yule log is celebrated across the globe. For many Christians, burning the Yule log takes place on Christmas Eve. The large log is brought into one’s home and was traditionally placed in a hearth, which is a fireplace with a brick or stone lining, however any fireplace will do. While the log burns friends and family gather around and sing, tell stories and dance. The occasion is intended to be joyous.

Many superstitions surround this ceremony. It begins with offerings. People offer food and wine, for example, which they place upon the log. This ceremony forgives you of bad choices or mistakes made and personal faults in preparation for the New Year. Never is the log completely burned. Some small portion of it is saved for the following year. This is thought to bring good luck to the home and protect it. It was also a symbol of continuity and Heaven’s everlasting light. Further, the saved piece of the log will be used to start the fire the next year. The ashes from the Yule log are another form of good luck. In the past, they would be sprinkled into wells to keep the water good, and spread around the base of fruit trees to help yield a strong crop. The log could also be a symbol of bad luck. It was said that if the log burned out before the night was over, the following year would bring hardships to the home. It was also said that if a person’s shadow were cast from the fire of the Yule log without a head, they would die the following year.

While not as prominent as a Christmas Wreath or tree in America, the burning of the Yule log is a tradition present more commonly in other countries. There are contrasting variations of the ceremony as well as differences in types and sizes of wood used. Englanders burn their Yule log for the duration of the 12 days of Christmas. Their Yule logs would sometimes require a horse to pull them because of their massive size. The French created the edible version of a Yule log, which is a dessert served near Christmas called Bûche de Noël. In Italy, a Yule log is not burned, but instead is decorated and used as a centerpiece. In this form, Italians refer to the Yule log as a “ceppo”.

Ultimately, this is a tradition with a long history that was not always centered around Christianity. It is one that is practiced throughout the world, with the common ground being a warm celebration filled with close friends and family. Therefore, burning a Yule log is not so much be centered on the act, but rather the moments shared around the fire held during one of the most giving times of the year.

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