This is fourth in a series of 12 posts on historical Christmas traditions. I didn’t note my sources, but please trust I did verify the information.
Many people burn a Yule log (or at least watch one burning on TV while listening to Christmas music) without knowing its origins. It has its beginnings in Germanic paganism practiced in areas like Scandinavia and Germany. It ties in with the pagan origins of the Christmas tree, which we’ll discuss later. The tradition began using a whole tree, which was ritually cut and brought indoors with great ceremony. The end would be placed in the hearth fire with the rest of the tree in the room. The remnants of last year’s log would be used to light the tree and would be added to the fire each day.
Different kinds of wood are used in different countries. Pine is traditional in Germany, while the English like their oak (which is plentiful there and ties back to Druid belief that oak is sacred). In Scotland, they use birch and in France they use cherry wood sprinkled with wine before it is burned so that it smells good when it is lit.
In the 1600s, the Yule log even transformed into a type of rolled cake that was made popular by Parisian bakers in the 1800s. They may taste good, but take it from me, they are difficult to bake.
Have you ever lit a Yule log? How about baked the eponymous cake?
I’m scared of fire (plus I have cats and cats like to try to light themselves on fire) so I have an advent wreath that kind of resembles a Yule log. I also try every few years to bake a Yule log cake, but always end up with a cake that falls apart rather than rolls.