Yule Log is an old Christmas tradition that involves burning a large log (the log itself is also called a yule log). Like many Christmas traditions, Yule Log has evolved over time. In earlier days, people progressively burned a whole tree trunk for the twelve days of Christmas. With time, the log became smaller. Now, Yule Log can come in the form of a Christmas dessert – a cake in the shape of a log. It can also be a décor item, a centerpiece, or even part of Advent candles.
The earlier Yule Log tradition saw people place the larger end of their log into the fireplace while the other end remained in the room. When people used bigger logs, the logs typically did not burn completely and were reused the following year.
In some cases, people used smaller logs on each day of the twelve days of Christmas. But in all cases, lighting the logs with clean hands was essential.
Across Europe, the Yule Log tradition took different forms. In the United Kingdom, for example, the log goes by an alias in some places. Then in some areas, they use special kinds of logs for Yule logs.
In Provence, a French region, the whole family takes part in cutting the log. Then any part of the log left unburnt is kept until the subsequent Christmas as protection from lightning.
In some Balkan countries (Croatia, Serbia, and North Montenegro), people use a special log called Badnjak for Yule Log on Christmas Eve. Then some Irish regions prefer to use large candles instead of logs. Also, they do their burning on New Year’s Day and the twelfth night of Christmas.
Many homes do not have a fireplace since they already have central heating. So, they cannot burn yule logs like in the past. But they still celebrate in modern ways.
Yule Log Burning
When burning a yule log, you could let the wood burn with regular old flames. But if you want to make things more interesting, you could change the color of the flames.
If you want yellowish/orange flames, sprinkle some table salt on the log. For white flames, sprinkle some Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) on the log. Then for purple flames, sprinkle some potassium chloride on the log.
If you also want some sparks while burning your log, sprinkle some sugar or iron fillings on the log. Then to create a flash flame, sprinkle some flour.
Ensure you take fire safety precautions while burning your Yule Logs.
Where Did Yule Log Originate?
Yule Log didn’t start out as a Christmas tradition. Rather, it was part of a different celebration – one that came much earlier than Christmas – that celebration was Yule.
Yule was an old Winter Solstice festival dating back to pre-medieval times. It has a Nordic origin and was a marker of the return of fertility to the land and the Sun to the skies.
Yule was celebrated in many other ways. There was wassailing, dancing, and heavy feasts in some customs.
As Christianity started growing in Europe, various non-Christian customs were adopted into the religion. Yule is one of those customs.
What Does the Yule Log Represent?
There are various interpretations of what the Yule Log represents. As mentioned earlier, the Yule Log represented the return of the sun (midwinter) in the earliest days. Then later, in Provence, it was thought that placing a yule log under the bed was protection from lightning. In the same region, it also represented luck and protection from fire.
In Christianity, the Yule Log could be thought of as a symbol of the birth of Jesus Christ. To some others, it represents Jesus’ victory over sin.
To some farmers, the Yule Log could represent a source of plant nutrients. The ashes from burnt yule logs offer various benefits to plants, primarily because of the high potash content of the ashes.
Yule Log Cake
While some people still burn logs as was done in the earliest days of the Yule festival, some others choose to do things differently. One way people celebrate Yule differently is to bake a Yule Log Cake, also known as Bûche de Noël. It is a log-shaped, soft sponge cake made in celebration of the Yule Log. It has French origins, with the date set around the 19th century. But some suggest it may have been a thing as early as the 17th century.
While it has French origins, Yule Log cakes are enjoyed all over the world. In Belgium, for instance, they are a popular treat known as Kerststronk.
Besides Belgium and France, these akes are popular in Vietnam, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Quebec (Canada).
How to Make a Yule Log Cake
Typically, a Yule Log Cake comes with a yellow or chocolate sponge cake at the core. This gives it a look similar to the center of an actual log.
The cake is usually covered in chocolate icing with a texture like that of tree bark. So, in the end, the whole thing looks pretty much like a wooden log. Of course, there are many Yule Log Cake recipes out in the world today. From adding leaves or leaf designs to adding meringue mushrooms, seeds, and other similar embellishments, people have fun with various recipes nowadays.
Besides making Yule Log Cakes, people celebrate with Yule-themed decorations. If this option appeals to you, here are some ideas for you:
Candles on a Log
Of course, when you are decorating your house with a yule log, you do not want to set it on fire. But how about you place scented candles on the log instead?
Besides placing candles on the log, you can sprinkle some artificial snow on the log to create a wintery effect. Then you may throw in some greens – stalks of a plant like the Stella Cherry would do.
White birches are one of the best options when it comes to creating high-contrast decorations. So, you can get yule logs from a white birch tree and decorate them with red or black ribbons, wreaths, or pinecones. This will go well as a centerpiece for your table. You could also place the white birch log on your fireplace mantel.
Painting Round Woodcuts
If you intend to get round woodcuts for this decoration, you may have to do some sawing. Else, this should not be too stressful. You’ll only use about 3 to 5 pieces of round woodcuts.
To pull this off, ensure your woodcuts are dry. If not, the paint will not bond well to the wood. Also, use latex paint or acrylic paint since they come out pretty well when used on wood.
Once you have everything in place, paint the center of the woodcuts with any pattern you like. While you can work with any pattern, you could also make your painting yule themed.
Some yule-themed patterns you can try out include the Wiccan wheel, the sun, candles, the Ying-Yang symbol, stars, the moon, a snowflake, and other related symbols.
Mini Trees on Mini Round Woodcuts
Another way to use round woodcuts as Yule decorations is as the base of small Christmas trees. Of course, the small Christmas trees would be artificial, and you can even make them yourself.
Make as many mini-Christmas trees as you want, then attach their stem to the center of the round woodcuts. Then place the trees with their woodcut base in all the places you want to decorate.