Christmas Symbols

Yule Logs

Yule was the period that followed the winter solstice. During the period of the winter solstice the days would be darker and less conducive to revelry. Yule was therefore welcomed as the period in which the days began to get a bit longer. The origins of burning a special log in the period of Winter Solstice can be traced back to Ireland, Greece and Siberia. However, the tradition was strongest in Scandinavia where celebrations revolved around this custom. In fact it was greatly ritualistic, complete with ceremonial activities which were said to be tied to the rebirth of the sun. The name “Yule log” is also Scandinavian in origin.

By the 4th century, the Pope Julius I began the tradition of Christmas celebrations. This included the burning of the Yule log. However, the symbolism behind the burning log had been changed to make it more Christian in essence. Instead of celebrating the light of the sun, it was soon transformed to signify the light of Christ.

Usually the log would be burnt on Christmas Eve. A very large log was placed in an area close by a fireplace. Singing and celebrating would ensue while the log would be decorated and decked with the feast of the night. Supposedly once the log was ready to be burnt all the guests would think about all their shortcomings and bad choices that were made during the year and let them symbolically burn in the flame via the Yule log. A small portion of the log would be saved so that it could once again commence the following year's ritual. It was also thought that the log brought with it a bit of good luck. The log pieces that were saved were said to protect a home from fire, hail and lightning. A bit of the ashes would also be put in the wells to ensure the water would be pure and fit for drinking. In addition the ashes were used as a kind of fertilizer to help trees and vines grow.

Ultimately even if you don't have a fireplace, like the French, you may opt to bake your own Yule log and have it as a tasty treat. While some of the symbolism will be lost, you will still in many ways be perpetuating this custom.