This is indeed a special time of year, dear reader. The Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, is a time for celebration and cheer. It is an acknowledgement of the light slowly beginning its return to the world.
Traditionally, the Yule log is the last part of the winter solstice festival fire of the previous year. This final section of the final log is kept, generally wrapped in cloth and protected in the home until it is brought out the next year to continue the cycle. Symbolically, this reigniting of the Yule log, and subsequently extracting and retaining the log for the following year, keeps the same ancient fires burning, regardless of circumstances between festivals. Just as a candle snuffed is said to remain lit in spirit, retaining the intent and drive of the original lighting until the flame is next ignited, so too does the Yule log retain the intentions and blessings of the fires it has been touched by. In some regions, where these traditions have remained relatively unbroken for centuries, the logs can draw from hundreds, if not more, years of history and familial intent.
In France’s Provence region, the whole family would take part in felling the Yule log (traditionally, a whole tree and not just a log, apparently), and the remaining portion was kept in the home to ward off lightening (2). In the Netherlanders, there was the additional caveat of the log needing to be stored under someone’s bed.
Apparently, as you might expect, as the tradition spread across Europe, the material focus of the log changed as the environment changed: English Oak, Scottish Birch, French Cherry, or a bundle of Ash twigs in Devon and Somerset (2). No one expression is/was “right,” any more than any of the others. Each region intertwined pre-existing traditions and available materials with the Solstice’s midwinter fire festival. Each tree brings its own properties and connotations and each provides an opportunity for light and new beginnings.
Happy Yule and may the blessings of this holiday season bring you health and wealth in the coming months, increasing with the returning sun.
Until next time,