Of the many Yuletide traditions, the Yule Log stands out as one of the most quaint in antiquity. The tradition of the Yule log began with Germanic tribes in Northern Europe. Marking the beginning of the winter solstice, rather than in celebration of the Christian holiday of Christmas, Yule log traditions have evolved.
In medieval times, a large tree trunk was selected on Candlemas Day. It was then carefully stored over the summer in order to "season" it sufficiently for burning at Yuletide. Thus, on Christmas Eve, the Yule log was dragged into the house and kindled with the unburned parts of the prior year's log, which was saved particularly for that purpose.
Yule Log traditions have remained in European and Scandinavian cultures to this day. Some yule logs are bedecked with pine boughs and cones, which create a "crackling" sound while burning. But, this also help as a form of kindling, after which other logs are placed atop or behind the Yule log depending on its size and length. In certain European households, the youngest child is allowed to carry this special log, which like a showpiece burns brightly. In Gypsy lore, the brighter a Yule log burns, the happier the winter solstice will be.
Yule log traditions are reminiscent of the earlier days of Christmas and the manner in which it was celebrated. In more modern times, people continue this, although they may not chop their own wood to create a Yule log. The symbolism behind this tradition is a reminder of leaner times in which people still maintained a happy outlook during this holiday season.
The bleakness of winter advanced many traditions during Yuletide such as bringing a fir tree indoors, decorating it with candles and other ornaments to add a bit of gaiety and frivolity to dark winter days. The Yule log traditions were a natural emanation of the use of wood to keep warm when heavy snows fell and icy winds blew. Decorating a Yule log gave it significance beyond the ordinary heating log.
It bears remembering that central heating was largely produced by using wood or coals in the days before modern heating with oil, steam or natural gas came into use. The task of cutting, storing and seasoning wood properly for an entire winter season was daunting. Yet, the wood stoves and fireplaces of the earliest homes bring back fond memories of evenings by firelight and the warmth of a place near a hearth. The cozy feeling of watching a Yule log burn on Christmas Eve or Christmas still produces the same feelings of protection from the long winters ahead.
The Yule log will remain among the season's activities looked upon with expectation and a sense of longing for the days of yore when life's simplicities
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