The burning of a Yule log was part of the Christmas traditions wherever you needed heat and light this time of year – the northern hemisphere.
It does have its roots in pagan traditions, and was part of the winter solstice traditions. The yule log is one of the various emblems of divine light.
It also is called the Yule Clog, Yule Block, Stock of Mock.
Lots of traditions are part of the burning of theYule log.
It is on the morning of Christmas eve, that the tree would be cut down. It was not to be purchased. In very early days, there were large hearths or fireplaces and the whole tree would be brought in.
The eldest person in the family was to take the lead in bringing it into the home. Some stories go that this yule log needed to be paraded around the home three times before it was brought in. And the people carrying it needed to have clean hands.
The log could be decorated with holly and pinecones and blessed with wine.
The tinder to start the log burning was to be from the log from the previous year. These saved bits were to have been stored under the bed. This was to bring good luck to the home and prevent lightening strikes to the home.
The sparks, both their numbers and colours, were watched to discern the fortunes for the following year. Stories were told in front of this burning yule log. If the storyteller cast a headless shadow it meant bad things for them!
It was burned at night, not during the day, for twelve consecutive nights.
In the Southern US before the end of the American Civil War, the Yule log was also maintained as a tradition. For slaves, December was a slow work month on the typical plantation, and it became the social season for them. The slaves' holiday lasted until the Yule log burned, which sometimes took over a week.
The Yule Log ashes were placed on the gardens, used in medicines and guarded against evil. The ashes really are good for gardens.
The tradition of having a Yule log got morphed into a chocolate cake, common in France, and hence so often referred to as the “Buche de Noel”. It is made to look like a log, and decorated, with sprigs of holly, and marzipan mushrooms.
This tradition was morphed again to be an image of a burning log on your television screen. Starting in 1966, the ‘show’, is a two to four hour film loop, with a traditional soundtrack of classic Christmas music , and broadcast without commercials.
Now there are several YouTube versions, available for your screen. They are nice to try to get you in this mood for this once again, morphed, holiday. Let's hope we're not looking at screens so much next year.