Author Susan Ellis is joining me today as part of her A Twelfth Night Tale blog tour to celebrate the release of her new novella A Twelfth Night Tale. She's written a wonderful post about Yule Logs. As part of her blog tour, one lucky commenter today will win a beautiful A Twelfth Night Tale Christmas charm bracelet. She will also be picking one random commener on each of the twelve stops of the tour to win a Giant Treasure Box. Click here to enter the RAfflecopter for the Giant Treasure Box.
As a former French teacher, the term “Yule Log” tends to bring to mind the tasty Bûche de Noël, a sponge cake rolled with cream and decorated with chocolate icing and marzipan mushrooms. The Bûche de Noël originated in France and Belgium and has spread to the UK and other places as well.
The tradition of the Yule log is not an ancient custom in Britain, but is considered to have been imported from Flanders in Belgium (from an ancient Nordic pagan tradition). The idea was to find the largest log possible (usually oak) and to keep it burning throughout the entire Twelve Days of Christmas. A remnant of the log was kept in the house for the next year to bring prosperity and protection from evil spirits…and to use in lighting the next year’s Yule Log.
The Yule log would be cut down and dragged by horses or oxen as people walked along and sang merry songs. Often it would be decorated with greenery and sprinkled with grain or cider before being lit. The first attempt at lighting the log had to be successful in order to avoid bad luck during the coming year. And the person lighting it had to have clean hands; dirty hands would be disrespectful. While log burned, people would drink cider and tell ghost and other tales and watch the walls for shadows. A headless shadow foretold the death of the person casting the shadow in the next year. People could burn offerings to represent their personal faults and mistakes to wipe the slate clean and start the year afresh.
Originally, the log was an entire tree, one end of which would be inserted into the hearth and the rest jutting out into the room. Burning an entire tree is not practical today with central heating and all.
In Cornwall, barrelmakers (coopers) would donate old trees unsuitable for making barrels to people for Yule logs. In Devon and Somerset, people used very large bungles of ash twigs, due to the legend that it was very cold in the stable where Mary and Joseph were staying and the shepherds collected twigs for them.
By the Regency-era, most people did not have large enough hearths to burn entire trees, but they could burn a large log for at least twelve hours on Christmas day.