I even got a few gifts wrapped while listening to the Chieftains' album, "Bells of Dublin," my absolutely favorite holiday recording. I know I drive my family crazy with it. As soon as Thanksgiving is past, I get the CD out and start listening to it at every opportunity. I sing along with a lot of the songs because I know almost all of them by heart after about 15 years of dedicated listening.
Larry worked on the New Year's bonfire, carefully piling brush and logs into a giant pile that will burn brightly to light in the year. Although tradition in many places has a bonfire being lit and maintained through Solstice night, we do ours at New Years and it's become a special and central part of our holidays.
We save part of the central log from the past year to start the next year's fire, a custom evidently that goes back to Scandinavian times. This practice is supposed to bring luck and good fortune--we can all use that!
The Book of Days for December 24th (the book is a real compendium of information for any day of the year) provides a wealth of background information about the yule log, as well as several poems that detail the customs of ancient celebrations.
Here is one short poem supposedly from the time of Henry the VI, from the Book of Days:
Welcome be thou, heavenly King,
Welcome born on this morning,
Welcome for whom we shall sing,
Welcome be ye Stephen and John,
Welcome Innocents every one,
Welcome Thomas Martyr one,
Welcome be ye, good New Year,
Welcome Twelfth Day, both in fere,
Welcome saints, loved and dear,
Welcome be ye, Candlemas,
Welcome be ye, Queen of Bliss,
Welcome both to more and less,
Welcome be ye that are here,
Welcome all, and make good cheer,
Welcome all, another year,
My mother always prepared a Yule log as a decoration--Dad would save part of the trunk of the Christmas tree and bore it with little holes and three bigger holes.
Mom put bits of greenery and Christmas trims into the small holes, and three candles into the larger ones. It made a pretty decoration, and I have one in my home today. Mom's heritage traces back to Scandinavian roots (her surname Hagger traces to Hagar) so perhaps that is where her tradition originated.
Today many people equate "Yule log" with a Christmas cake, and I have to say those cakes are a delicious tribute to an old custom. But for me it will always mean Mom's log decoration, and our own New Year's bonfire.