Today’s rich mosaic of Christmas customs dates back through the ages. Burning the Yule log started well before medieval times as part of a winter solstice celebration. Today, many of us know the Yule log only as a yummy chocolate dessert! Learn more about this custom.
“Yule” was the name of the old winter solstice festivals in Scandinavia and other parts of northern Europe. See all you need to know about the winter solstice (December 21, this year!).
The word “Yuletide” originated from the word “Yule,” which was recorded in Latin writings as early as A.D. 726.
- At that time, one form of the world “Yule” was guili, which referred to a midwinter period (December and January) in the Roman calendar.
- The Old Norse term jól referred to a 12-day pagan festival feast celebrated around midwinter.
- Later, Christians transformed the festival into a celebration of the birth of Christ.
Yule was the darkest time of year; people celebrated because the days would start getting longer after the solstice. The Yule log was symbolic of the Sun’s emergence from its southern reaches and the land’s rebirth.
As Christianity began to spread in the 4th century, the Christmas feast day was set on December 25 by Pope Julius I to align with the Roman pagan holiday Dies natalis solis invicti, “the birthday of the invincible Sun.”
Read more: Why Christmas Day is celebrated on December 25?
Christmas Yule Log
The candles and lights associated with Christmas, meant to symbolize guiding beacons for the Christ child, may have evolved from the Yule og, which was lit to entice the Sun to return as part of the jol (Yule) festival in pagan Scandinavia.
Interestingly, the Yule log was originally an entire tree! Families would bring the trunk of the Christmas tree inside and stick the big end of it into the fireplace! The Yule log would feed the fire through the 12 Days of Christmas (from Christmas Day through the evening of the 5th of January, Twelfth Night). The ashes of Yule logs were said to be very good for plants. Wood ashes do indeed have beneficial uses in the garden!
Isn’t it interesting to learn about the many Christmas customs (the fire, Santa coming down the chimney, Christmas tree, etc.) that make up the rich tapestry of Christmastime?
Yule Log Décor and Dessert
Today, a Yule log is still a Christmas tradition in some cultures; a large log is traditionally burned in the fireplace on Christmas Eve. For others cultures, the Yule log is defined as a log-shape chocolate cake eaten on Christmas!
- If you are in the woodlot, plan to cut some of that white birch into Yule logs for your friends. They can be used in fireplaces or as decor. Tied with red ribbon, such logs make ideal Christmas gifts!
- The Yule log also makes a great centerpiece for either tapers or tea lights (as shown in the photo at the top of this article). You could also use the purple and pink Advent candles. Our town’s Boy Scout troop drilled holes in birch logs to create special candle holders for Scout ceremonies.
Credit: S Marina/Shutterstock
- Make an edible Yule log! Here’s our dessert recipe for a light bûche de Noël! It’s a Christmas favorite, adding a festive flair to any holiday table.
Discover more about the winter solstice—the first day of winter!