Monday, November 23, 2015

Log On for Christmas

Last week I took delivery of a Yule Log. Not the chocolate covered sponge cake variety that you might find in the local grocery store, but a real Log made of Oak wood, as the name suggests. It was a complimentary gift from Certainly Wood via their PR company Mad as a March Hare.

It seems that for centuries past, but not in recent times (?), burning a Yule Log over the Twelve Days of Christmas was an important part of the Festive celebrations. It was meant to ensure good fortune, wealth and happiness for the coming year.


Mind you, at £25 each, (inc p&p) one for each of the twelve days might mean your finances don’t get that good a start in the New Year. Anyway, if you are going to be burning a Yule Log this year there are some rules:
  • The Log needs to be kiln dried so it will burn strong and long without any smoke or residue compared to traditional, seasoned wood, which has a much higher moisture content. Damper wood leads to sooting of the chimney or flue, which can contribute to chimney fires.
  • It needs to be sourced from sustainable British woodland and locally sourced.
  • Hardwood is best as it burns longer with more intense heat.
  • You don't need an open fire or wood burning stove - there's nothing better than sitting around a winter camp fire, toasting marshmallows and downing a glass or two of mulled wine.
  • So you might need one of these.

The Ancient Yule Log Myths & Legends

The word Yule originates from the old winter Solstice festivals that were held in Scandinavia and across other parts of Northern Europe back in ancient times.

The pagans believed the sun stood still for 12 days at the end of the year and the burning of a Yule log kept light going in its absence. It was also linked to the Christian belief that shepherds brought bundles of kindling and logs to the stable to light a fire to keep baby Jesus warm during this period. Hence the twelve days of Christmas.

There used to be great ceremony involved in finding the Yule tree on Christmas Eve and bringing it back to the village. Although different varieties of trees were often used, oak was the most popular as it represented healing, strength and wisdom.

Often the tree was chosen by both the youngest and eldest within the village - they looked for a tree that promised to burn well as this was important to the ritual.

Once it had been chosen and cut down, the tree was decorated using ribbons, fir cones, holly and mistletoe. Often accompanied by everyone from the village, it was then ceremonially dragged back to the village, with musicians and dancers joining the procession.

Originally, the whole tree was burnt - a section a day - until the entire trunk had been completely consumed by the twelfth night. It was believed that doing so would cleanse away the previous year's events, making way for the next twelve months. However, as people's fireplaces became smaller over time, instead of an entire tree, villagers were each given their own Yule log to burn in their hearth.

On Christmas Eve, the fire would be set, with the Yule Log taking pride of place. Wine and salt would be sprinkled over it to make it ‘feel welcome' and a blessing would be said. People would also make a wish for the coming year and ask for good fortune to find its way into their home, often tossing a holly leaf into the roaring fire as they made their wish.

One popular tradition associated with the Yule log was that any unnecessary work around the house would be forgotten about over the next twelve days. It was seen as a season of merriment and reflection - a time for a little respite from normal, everyday chores.

It was important that clean hands were also used when touching the Yule Log and it was deemed bad luck for a bare-footed woman or a man with a squint to handle it. On Twelfth Night, a small portion of what remained was supposed to be kept and used to light next year's Yule Log. In France, people kept the ashes of the Yule Log in a box under their bed to ward off thunder and lightning. Sometimes the ashes were scattered in the fields or placed at the base of fruit trees to ensure an abundant harvest.

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