Yule log -
origins & trivia
In Northern Europe, Winter festivities were once
considered to be a Feast of the Dead, complete with
ceremonies full of spirits, devils, and the haunting
presence of the Norse god, Odin, and his night riders.
One particularly durable Solstice festival was "Jol"
(also known as "Jule" and pronounced "Yule"), a feast
celebrated throughout Northern Europe and particularly
in Scandinavia to honor Jolnir, another name for Odin.
Since Odin was the god of intoxicating drink and
ecstasy, as well as the god of death, Yule customs
varied greatly from region to region. Odin's sacrificial
beer became the specially blessed Christmas ale
mentioned in medieval lore, and fresh food and drink
were left on tables after Christmas feasts to feed the
roaming Yuletide ghosts. Even the bonfires of former
ancient times survived in the tradition of the Yule Log,
perhaps the most universal of all Christmas symbols.
The origins of the Yule Log can be traced back to the
Midwinter festivals in which the Norsemen
indulged...nights filled with feasting, "drinking Yule"
and watching the fire leap around the log burning in the
home hearth. The ceremonies and beliefs associated with
the Yule Log's sacred origins are closely linked to
representations of health, fruitfulness and
productivity. In England, the Yule was cut and dragged
home by oxen or horses as the people walked alongside
and sang merry songs. It was often decorated with
evergreens and sometimes sprinkled with grain or cider
before it was finally set alight.
In Yugoslavia, the Yule Log was cut just before dawn on
Christmas Eve and carried into the house at twilight.
The wood itself was decorated with flowers, colored
silks and gold, and then doused with wine and an
offering of grain. In an area of France known as
Provencal, families would go together to cut the Yule
Log, singing as they went along. These songs asked for
blessings to be bestowed upon their crops and their
flocks. The people of Provencal called their Yule Log
the trefoire and, with great ceremony, carried the log
around the house three times and christened it with wine
before it was set ablaze.
To all European races, the Yule Log was believed to
bring beneficial magic and was kept burning for at least
twelve hours and sometimes as long as twelve days,
warming both the house and those who resided within.
When the fire of the Yule Log was finally quenched, a
small fragment of the wood would be saved and used to
light the next year's log. It was also believed that as
long as the Yule Log burned, the house would be
protected from witchcraft. The ashes that remained from
the sacred Yule Log were scattered over fields to bring
fertility, or cast into wells to purify and sweeten the
water. Sometimes, the ashes were used in the creation of
various charms...to free cattle from vermin, for
example, or to ward off hailstorms.
Some sources state that the origin of Yule is associated
with an ancient Scandinavian fertility god and that the
large, single Log is representative of a phallic idol.
Tradition states that this Log was required to burn for
twelve days and a different sacrifice to the fertility
god had to be offered in the fire on each of those
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