Monday, December 23, 2013

The Yule Log

It's almost time to start the Christmas fire and if you know the old traditions, you'll have saved a bit of log from last year to start your fire this season.

Cutting an burning a special log during the Solstice/Christmas season dates back to pagan times, when the return of light was celebrated with merrymaking, food and song much like our Christmas holidays today. The Yule log began as a Viking tradition; a special log, preferably from one's own land, according to the website The log would be cut and dragged to the fire, sometimes requiring a team of horses to drag the log! The ideal was to find a log large enough to burn for twelve days. I once saw a photo of a Yule fire with the log extending out into the room,  so it burned end-first! A bit of obstruction to set over, I'd think, but I feel sure that log burned as long as needed.

According to Tomm Larson at, "The burning of the Yule log marked the beginning of Christmas celebrations. In Appalachia, as long as the log, or "backstick" burned you could celebrate. Often a very large "backstick" was chosen and soaked in a stream to ensure a nice long celebration. In the early nineteenth century, American slaves didn't have to work as long as the Yule log burned, so they would choose the biggest, greenest log they could find. If they did have to work while it burned their master had to pay them for the work.


Come Bring the Noise by Robert Herrick

Come bring the noise,
My merry, merry boys,
The Christmas log to the firing;

While my good dame, she
Bids ye all be free,
And drink to your heart's desiring.

With the last year's brand
Light the new block, and
For good success in his spending,
On your psalteries play,
That sweet luck may
Come while the log is a teending.

Drink now the strong beer,
Cut the white loaf here,
The while the meat is a shredding
For the rare mince-pie
And the plums standing by,
To fill the paste that's a kneeding.

I hope your fires are bright, both in your hearth and in your heart, and that all preparations for Wednesday are moving smoothly and joyfully!

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

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