It’s now officially December and only a few weeks from Christmas.
Given the festivities of the month ahead, I thought I’d use this Mythical Monday to look at superstitions related to the Yule log. Who doesn’t love to see the warm amber glow of firelight flooding from a hearth and hear the crackle of wood?
No fireplace? No worries. For the last several years, most cable-TV providers have made it possible to dial up a virtual Yule log for your HD flatscreen. Pretty snazzy, but how did it all start?
The burning of the Yule log was a Nordic custom, but was adopted by Britain shortly after the Vikings invaded in 1066. It wasn’t long before the practice spread to several other European cultures as well.
Often related to the Winter Solstice Festival, the Yule log was originally a Yule tree, burned in honor of Odin, father of the Norse gods. Think about it – – why would a strapping Viking bother with a measly log when he could battleax an oak or ash into submission and set it ablaze? Norsemen never did anything small scale. And, as someone who has taken an ax to an ash tree, let me tell you that is some nasty hard wood! We had a stump in our rear yard that not even a Bobcat could make a dent in.
Fortunately, the tradition of burning an entire tree was eventually replaced by a large log of hardwood. When celebrating Christmas became popular in the fourth century A.D., the custom of burning a Yule log was moved from the solstice to Christmas Day, with the log’s fire representing the light of the Savior. A portion of the log would be left unburned, then used to start a new fire the following year as a symbol of continuity and the eternal fire of heaven.
Given how deeply rooted the Yule log is in old cultures, I knew there had to be elements of superstition interwoven with the tradition. Some tidbits I found:
Toss sprigs of holly into the flames of the Yule log to bring good fortune in the coming year.
Burn the Yule log each day during the Twelve Days of Christmas to ensure good luck.
Never purchase a Yule log. It should be cut from your own land.
A house is protected from fire, hail and lightning as long as a few pieces of the log are kept inside.
If the firelight casts your shadow minus your head, it’s a sign death is near. (Creepy. Talk about putting a damper on the celebration.).
Never let a barefooted woman or squint-eyed man touch the Yule log. This is certain to result in bad luck. (Better cross Aunt Matilda and Uncle Jasper from the guest list.).
I wonder what those Viking invaders would think if they saw our digitized version today, broadcast with sound effects and music through 60” flatscreen TVs. I think it says a lot that we’re still charmed by the magic of ancient tradition and the thought of family, friends and good cheer.
Whether you’re using a fireplace, TV, or computer screen, may your Yule log burn brightly and long, and bring good luck in the coming year!