Makers & Brothers

Christmas Yule Log

The Yule Log, known to many of us as a chocolate sponge cake decorated to resemble the trunk of a tree, is in fact a winter tradition that predates Christmas. Its origins appear to lie with the Germanic Pagan celebration of winter solstice. The festival of Yule Tide ran from December until January – a time of great darkness in Scandinavian countries. Families would venture into the woods to find as big a log as they could carry. Using the remnants of the previous year’s Yule Log, the log would then be burnt in celebration of the much-anticipated oncoming solstice. They looked forward to longer days, plentiful crops and warmer months.

In the 4th century Pope Julius I decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus during Yule Tide. Along with the hanging of mistletoe, the burning of a Yule Log is one of the few Pagan customs adopted by the Christians to celebrate Christmas. As far north as Siberia, as far south as Greece and as far West as Ireland, for many people the burning of the Yule Log marked the beginning of The Twelve Days of Christmas - the period between Christmas Eve and The Feast of the Epiphany or Oíche Nollaig na mBan (Women’s Christmas) as its known here in Ireland.

On Christmas Eve, a huge log would be serenaded into the home and placed in an open fire. Offerings of food, wine and gifts were placed upon it, with people using its burning to symbolise the cleansing of their faults and sins. As long as the log burned, the celebrations would continue. However it was considered bad luck to let it burn completely. Often its ashes were scattered on the roots of trees in the hope that they would bear a good harvest in Spring.

Today, open fires are not as common as they used to be. Instead, a Yule Log cake is baked and decorated or a candle is lit in one’s window to symbolise a New Year and new beginnings. 

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