The Yule log is a pretty dominant and a recognizable decoration and ritual accessory for rituals and pagan home décor during Yule….but why? Well this tradition goes back many, many years and for the most part seems to originate in Europe. As with many pagan traditions, while the details may vary depending on specific area the basics stay the same. In early days the Yule log was actually a Yule tree and a family would make a big deal out of selecting that tree. Depending on tradition, a certain type of tree would be sought out. In Europe, and the most common Yule Log today, the preference was on Oak. While the tradition in France was Cherry wood, Scottish tradition called for Birch wood, etc.
So the family would create a ritual or tradition around the hunting and harvesting of their Yule tree and once they found it and brought it home, they would burn it from the bottom to the top in their indoor fireplaces. In many cases, it was good luck to keep the very first log from the tree, its bottom, and save it until the following Yule where that log would be burnt with the first cutting of the Yule tree for the current year. In a sense, creating a circle of the year.
I would assume the significance placed on the burning of a tree for their celebration was in relation to the necessity, symbolism and a sign of the times. Symbolically fire is representative of the Sun and the light that it would shed on that darkest day of the year. In addition to being the darkest, generally speaking it would be the coldest as well. Therefore, that tree would be a symbol and a source of survival in those times before central heating. The tree was a sacrifice that was very much appreciated, honored and vital to survival.
After Yule, the ash would be placed in the garden to fertilize the soil for the next year’s harvest. However, careful not to discard that ash too soon, because if it was thrown out on Yule day it was actually bad luck.
So as times change and everything has evolved we now have, primarily, the Yule log. Most of us do not have the resources to harvest or to even burn an entire tree. However, we are able to make that part of history a part of our own celebrations even today. We can collect a log, decorate it with evergreen or mistletoe and burn it in our fireplaces the following year OR for those of us without a fireplace there are other options. That log can be made into a family craft where you drill holes for candles and place the candles in the log. Since Yule marks the “end” of a year and beginning of a new, three candles are most appropriate: past, present, and future. Take a look at our previous blog on Yule correspondences for some suggestions on possible candle colors appropriate for Yule. The candles are able to bring the fire, symbolic light and warmth, to the celebration.
I think of the Yule log when I look at today’s Christmas tree. I think back to how it was a real tree at one time and has now evolved into artificial trees. Many Christian traditions have pagan roots and so it can be entertaining and educational to see how things compare. For instance: