About That Yule Log

Yule LogFrom December 23, 2009.

“I forget sometimes that my traditions are not the same as everyone else’s. In recent correspondence with a friend about secular traditions and Yule spirit (in regard to how I celebrate the holidays), I explained my family’s peculiar tradition regarding the Yule log. I thought I would share it here.”

“The one and only lasting Yule tradition I have is a Yule log. The one in my possession has been maintained since my great-grandmother’s day. Every year I keep a fire burning in the fireplace for the whole Yule season, starting with the Winter Solstice around Dec. 21 and burning until Twelfth Night (around Jan. 6). The fire is started with the Yule log from the year before. And when the fire is ended on Twelfth Night, the largest remaining log is saved for the next year. This way there is an unbroken chain from each year to the next.”

“My family has done this for many generations, passing down the Yule log to our descendants.  It’s a way of inviting ancestors to join you at the hearth, because technically parts of the Yule fires they made in their time are still very much present, since the Yule log has been passed down through the generations and the each new Yule fire is started with a remnant of the previous one. There are carbon remains of every preceding fire, and when you believe in the elemental spirits, that’s a big bonus.”

“To my family the Yule log is the most precious heirloom we can pass down. I’d save it in an emergency before anything else I own.”

~ Claire Mulkieran

Of course, there is plenty of historical significance to Yule Logs that go far beyond my family and our own peculiar traditions. The Yule log has been associated with having its origins in the historical Germanic paganism which was practiced across northern Europe prior to Christianization. One of the first people to do so was the English historian Henry Bourne, who, in the 1720’s, described the practice occurring in the Tyne valley. Bourne theorised that the practice derives from customs in 6th to 7th century Anglo-Saxon paganism.

Robert Chambers, in his 1864 work, Book of Days notes that “two popular observances belonging to Christmas are more especially derived from the worship of our pagan ancestors – the hanging up of the mistletoe and the burning of the Yule log.”

James George Frazer in his work on anthropology, The Golden Bough (p. 736) holds that “the ancient fire-festival of the winter solstice appears to survive” in the Yule log custom. Frazer records traditions from England, France, among the South Slavs, in Central Germany (Meiningen) and western Switzerland (the Bernese Jura).

However, some historians have disagreed with this claim, for instance the Swedish folklorist Carl Wilhelm von Sydow attacked Frazer’s theories, claiming that the Yule log had never had any religious significance, and was instead simply a festive decoration with practical uses.

The first mention of the Yule log in Britain is a written account by the clergyman Robert Herrick, from the 1620’s or 1630’s. Herrick called the tradition a “Christmas log” and said that it was brought into the farmhouse by a group of males, who were then rewarded with free beer from the farmer’s wife. Herrick claimed that the fire used to burn the log was always started with a remnant from the log that had been burned in the previous year’s festivities. He also said that the log’s role was primarily one of bringing prosperity and protection from evil – by keeping the remnant of the log all the year long the protection was said to remain across the year.

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Ricky Grubb
Ricky Grubb
8 years ago

And we call salamanders “Fire Dogs” because they come running out of the fireplace when their home (inside the yule log) gets too hot!

ds
ds
5 years ago

i love this i need this for school