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‘Tis the Season for a Yule Log: So where does this tradition come from?

As the days get shorter, the darkness looms longer and it seems as though the Sun in the sky is dying. Many acknowledge this as a special time of year called Yule. This is the perfect time to really take a step back and press the pause button. Take some time to realize that this special time of year, the winter solstice, offers you so. December 21(an important date on most calendars) The sun begins its journey back (in the northern hemisphere) to the north, and so, we are reminded that we have something worth celebrating as the Sun begins to rise in the sky once again, and the days slowly but surely, begin to get longer and light. Many Pagan and Wiccan families celebrate this return of the Sun by adding light into their homes – in various ways – and is a very popular tradition. This article is going to focus on one of those ways which is the Yule Log.

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What is Yule?

Yule is the Pagan celebration for the Winter solstice (which is a 12-day festival). It was originally celebrated by Germanic people of more ancient times where all the special events of Yule were generally held to have centered on Midwinter time, this is where the term “Yule log” comes from as both December and January were called Guili or Yule. During Yule people would feat & drink, even make ritual sacrifices to the Gods which gave Yule a strong religious element to our ancestors celebrations.

NOTE: Blood sacrifices were made on Yule – the old word for this is “blot” – and would be dedicated to either a Germanic gods, spirit of the land, or to their ancestors followed by a feast or sacramental meal.

What is a Yule Log?

An emblem divine light that feature in winter holiday customs like the Yule fire and Yule candle. Families who come from of kinds all different spiritual paths, celebrate the return of the light during the winter solstice time of year. It is typically celebrate with bonfires, home fires, candles and brightly lit trees or wreaths. The Yule log is something that is prominent in all pagan and more recently Christian based faiths, The log is specially selected to be burnt on a hearth. The choice of wood is also meaningful to families as each different type of wood have varying and precise magickal and spiritual properties (click here for help on which wood to choose). Depending on what the family were in need of for the coming months, they would choose based on their needs. Let’s look further into the reasons behind this long held tradition …

Why burn a Yule Log?

As previously mentioned, the burning the Yule log dates back to early solstice celebrations and is very closely linked to the tradition of having bonfires (bonfires are a pagan ritual, as bonfires were lit at the beginning of November to signal the start of another year and the onset of winter). The Yule log has (and still is) used as an emblem or, symbolic representation of the return of the Sun. . The Yule log gives hope that the days will soon begin to lengthen once again, but in the mean time, the Yule log is there to illuminate the house, and turn the the dark, cold nights into day.

NOTE: In Germanic Neopagan groups, Yule is celebrated with gatherings to enjoy gifting each other and enjoying a meal together. In Wicca, Yule is typically celebrated at the winter solstice as the rebirth of the Great horned hunter god now viewed as the newborn solstice sun.

THE NAME YULE

The Yule log can also be referred to as : Yule Clog (north-east), Yule Block (Midlands), Gule Block (Lincolnshire) and Stock of the Mock (Cornwall). All these terms come from different regions of England. Other parts of the UK had their own name for the Yule log such as: Boncyff Nadolig (British Isles), the Blocyn y Gwyliau (Wales), the Yeel Carline translated to “the Christmas Old Wife” (Scotland) and the Bloc na Nollaig (Ireland).

The Old Tradition of the Yule Log:

According to English folklore Yule goes waaaay back, way before everything became “Christianized” all the way back the ancient Germanic record, with Henry Bourne (an English Historian) in as early as 1725, attempted to find an origin for the Yule log in Anglo-Saxon paganism

As Christianity spread throughout Europe, the tradition of the Yule log gradually became part of the Christmas celebrations. The tradition developed where the Father (or Master) of the house would sprinkle the current years Yule log with the past ashes of the previous year log as well as libations of mead or oil. After the log had completely burned in the hearth, the Yule log ashes were then scattered around the house to protect the family from any hostile spirits.

The Yule log is recorded in the folklore archives of much of England, but particularly in collections covering the West Country and the North Country. Here is an example of just that, from a Mrs. Day, Minchinhampton (Gloucestershire, native of Yorkshire) and what customs she and people like her from the same or similar regions, would follow:

“The Yule log is generally given, and is at once put on the hearth. It is unlucky to have to light it again after it has once been started, and it ought not go out until it has burned away. To sit around the Yule log and tell ghost stories is a great thing to do on this night, also card-playing. Two large colored candles are a Christmas present from the grocery. Just before supper on Christmas Eve (where furmety is eaten), while the Yule log is burning, all other lights are put out, and the candles are lit from the Yule log by the youngest person present. While they are lit, all are silent and wish. It is common practice for the wish to be kept a secret. Once the candles are on the table, silence may be broken. They must be allowed to burn themselves out, and no other lights may be lit that night.”

Wikipedia

The Yule log is also a custom that was brought to the United Statesand people were practicing Yule-Log Ceremonies as early as 1934, with the custom beginning with the yule log hunt followed by drinking of wassail with family and friends around the fire.

NOTE: If you don’t have an open fire place to burn a Yule log don’t worry. You can use candles as a representation of the Yule log burning. You can get as creative as you like with this by adding pine cones and red berries and whatever else you like to a wooden log. Alternatively, if your a dab hand in the kitchen, why not bake one!

Similar but Differences of Yule Log Traditions:

So we have establish that the Yule log came from Pagan origin that was then adopted by Christianity. The custom of burning a Yule log for one or more nights was something that started on Christmas Eve. It became so widespread that it ended up in France (know as bûche de noël). Gifts would be hidden under the log and prayers were offered to the Gods as the log was lit. In France they also followed similar customs to the English where the log was first paraded three times around the house by the grandfather of the family and then blessed with wine. Again, it was often lighted together with the saved ashes of the previous year’s log. Now-a-days this custom has been replaced with eating a chocolate log-shaped cake (in French called, Bûche de Noël)

Baltics: Have a similar ritual called “log pulling” where people in a village would drag a log or a tree stump through the village at the winter solstice and then at the end burn it

Serbians: Have a similar tradition where people burn an oak log. There is also a tradition where Badnjak (a sapling) is placed on the hearth on Christmas Eve – it can include customs such as smearing it with fowl blood or goat blood, with the ashes then thrown onto the fields or garden to promote fertility on New Year’s Eve.

Catalan: These people have a similar tradition, where the “Tió” which is a magic log with a smiling face that lives in the forest, is brought home, and “fed” before Christmas. They have singing children beat Tió with sticks, then cover it with a blanket in order to make Tió defecate nougat candy and small gifts (I personally find this tradition a little strange, but hey, I don’t judge!) … see a picture of Tio below:

MAKE YOUR OWN YULE LOG

I like to get all my Yule decorations from nature and bring in the lovely spiritual energy that really enhances your connection to the divine and celebrations! Here is a list of something you can gather to create your own Yule log (feel free to take out or add what ever speaks to you!):

  • Choose a log, choose the wood you want and the size (I like 15 inches but it’s up to you)
  • Pine cones
  • Red berries (you can keep them on the twigs if you prefer)
  • Pine needles (bunches work well)
  • Dried berries
  • Dried orange (so easy to make your own and they smell amazing!)
  • Nuts
  • Ivy
  • Mistletoe
  • Feathers
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Candles (red, green, white, gold, silver)
  • OPTIONAL: Ribbon, twine, wire, glue

CONCLUSION

The Yule log is a special part of the celebration of the winter solstice for most people who participate in this pagan practice. It is a wonderful activity to enjoy as it bring in the magick or nature and fire into your home and can really warm the soul. I love it! Wishing you a beautiful Yule season that is full of peace, love, and magick 🙂

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