Mae Clair’s Mythical Monday: Yule Log Superstitions & Customs

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?

VIKING SHIP 2The 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.).

Christmas FireplaceAll kidding aside, there is something magical about a Yule log. The very thought conjures a special warmth, and its light is a beacon ideal for drawing family and friends near.

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!

28 thoughts on “Mae Clair’s Mythical Monday: Yule Log Superstitions & Customs

  1. Thanks for the post. I love fires and had never had a fireplace in my house before. But when we moved this time, it was on my must have list. We spend many a cool winters night around the fire. We also have a fire pit outside and once a year have a fire burning party. Happy holidays to you and yours.

    • I love fireplaces too. And you’re right, Sherry, they are so wonderful on crisp winter nights. Your outside fire burning party with the fire pit sounds awesome. I love stuff like that!

      Many thanks for commenting :)

  2. Pingback: My pal Mae Clair gives us some very cool info about a longstanding Christmas tradition – the Yule Log… « Thomas Rydder

  3. There are few things more comforting than a crackling fire on a blustery night. I love being warm and safe inside with my family while it rains or snows outside. Thanks for the great post!

  4. Interesting superstitions. I especially liked the one about casting a headless shadow, but that’s my Germanic sense of humor, not that it’s exactly funny, and my writer’s muse taking off with ideas. Thanks for the post, and happy December.

  5. I love your new avatar! And your side comments in your post made me laugh out loud. I love the coziness of a fire in the fireplace — although right now with the weather warming up, I’ll take that instead!

    • Thanks! And I’m glad I kept you amused, LOL. I have to agree the warmer weather is really nice. It just feels so strange with Christmas decorations everywhere I go. Of course, for those who live in warm or tropical climates I guess that’s the norm. My husband says he likes it (oh, and the new photo/avatar too :D)

  6. Fireplaces bring back great memories of spending the winter at my grandmother’s when I was little roasting marshmellows, hotdogs and listening to bedtime stories. Also some of the superstition you listed has sparked ideas to add to a story I’m working on. Thanks

    • Oooh, I like that my post sparked some ideas for you, Alicia. And, the winters spent at your grandmother’s sound like great memories indeed. Thanks for sharing them!

  7. First your new pic is great! Love it! Definitely has that mystery writer vibe all over it, Mae. And this post was very well crafted. Again, you’ve taught me some things I never knew, and I won’t ever look at the Yule Log the same. Not to mention, I’ll be keeping a look out for who is around me when I’m enjoying one. Even it’s on the tube. ;)

    You were made to blog, my friend! Your posts are always entertaining and engaging.

    • Thank you, Venice. What great compliments, post on the pic and the post. I do so love blogging and digging up info on my Mythical Monday posts is a lot of fun. I’ve learned a lot myself on a number of legends I thought I was familiar with!

    • You’re absolutely right, Stanalei! TV, computer screen, or fireplace, the magic is in the tradition and what you feel in your heart. And I occassionally turn on that digital version too :D

  8. As much as I’ve always loved fires & Christmas…somehow the Yule log was never a “thing” with us. I vaguely knew about them, but not the details. Based on the history, I’d say the tree burning Norsemen had a lot in common with the Scottish Highlanders who enjoyed Caber tossing. What an awesome, awesome myth. Now I’m gonna have to turn on the tv to get a Yule log when I go home. In the meantime, I’ll pretend the fireplace in the hotel lobby is full of Yule logs and enjoy that. :-)

    As I told you on Twitter…love your new avatar/pic!

    • You know, I haven’t looked for the digital TV version of the Yule log yet but now you have me wondering if it’s available. I may have to dial that one up myself ! :)

      Glad you like the avatar/pic. Hubby did good with the camera :)

      • It may be on the Christmas music channel…by the way, I linked this post into mine from today…since I only have my tablet with me, I don’t know if it pings back…but I got so excited because I found a way for Mythical Monday to share the warmth…and help to bring on the Christmas spirit while I’m homesick. :-)

  9. Pingback: Claiming Christmas (with a little help from my friends) « theinnerwildkat

  10. Pingback: The 12 Days of Yule – Day 9 – The Yule Log « Poli's Kitchen

Please scribble a thought or two. I appreciate your comments!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s