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The History of Christmas Traditions: The Yule Log

Kristine has a B.A. in Journalism from Penn State University and an M.A. in Liberal Studies from the University of Michigan.

Let's learn about the Yule Log's origins and modern existence!

Let's learn about the Yule Log's origins and modern existence!

The Origins of the Yule Log

Since well before medieval times, Christmas was celebrated in many European homes with the lighting of a Yule Log. This tradition is still a symbol of the holiday season, although many modern takes are now more popular than burning a real wood log.

Medieval Traditions

The custom of burning the Yule Log predates the medieval era and is rooted in pagan rituals, according to WhyChristmas. A Nordic tradition, “Yule” was the name of the Winter Solstice festivals traditionally held in Scandinavia, Germany, and other parts of Northern Europe.

Originally, the Yule Log was an entire tree that was ceremoniously selected and brought into the house. According to WhyChristmas, the large end of the log would be placed into the hearth and lit, while the rest of the tree protruded into the room.

This 1872 illustration depicts the ceremonial lighting of the Yule Log on Christmas Eve

This 1872 illustration depicts the ceremonial lighting of the Yule Log on Christmas Eve

Tidings of Good (or Bad) Fortunes

The Yule Log was traditionally thought to determine a person's good or bad luck in the coming year, according to HowStuffWorks. Superstitions varied across Europe.

One superstition held that if the log failed to catch fire on the first attempt to light it, all the inhabitants of the home would have bad luck in the New Year.

Another stated that the remains of a log must be carefully stored and used to light the next year’s Yule Log so that good luck would extend across generations. The ashes were often stored under a family member’s bed, which would ward off lightning strikes and keep evil spirits at bay, according to WhyChristmas.

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Regional Customs

As the Yule Log custom spread across Europe, various types of wood became popular in different countries. In England, oak is traditional, while birch is used in Scotland. Cherry is popular for Yule Logs in France, where wine is often sprinkled on the log before it is burned to enhance its fragrance, according to WhyChristmas.

According to English traditions, the Yule Log is cut on Christmas Eve and must burn throughout the 12 days of Christmas. Families would refrain from labor during this time to celebrate the season, according to HowStuffWorks.

The Bûche De Noël, or Yule Log, has become a traditional Christmas dessert

The Bûche De Noël, or Yule Log, has become a traditional Christmas dessert

From Fireplace to Kitchen

Today, many modern homes no longer contain fireplaces. This has given rise to a traditional dessert also known as the Yule Log, or Bûche de Nöel. This French confection is made from either chocolate- or gingerbread-flavored sponge cake and is frosted in a wood-grain pattern to resemble a log, according to HowStuffWorks.

Whether is it lit in a fireplace or consumed after Christmas dinner, the Yule Log remains a holiday tradition in many homes today.

How to Make Chocolate Yule Log

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Kristine Sorchilla Moore

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