The Yule Log is a tradition possibly of Germanic or Nordic origin. The log itself is traditionally the largest, hardest log that can be gotten from the nearby forest with the intention that it will burn hotly and brightly through the longest night of the year. The log would be heavy and several people and perhaps horses would be necessary to haul it home, which they would do while singing festive songs, possibly ringing bells. The log might be decorated with greenery and sprinkled with wine, mead, cider, oil, salt or some combination before it was lit with prayers of thanksgiving and hope.
Burning of the Yule log is said to keep evil spirits and negativity at bay and ensure prosperity and protection for the household, particularly if a portion of the log is kept throughout the year. Each year’s log should be started with that portion of the previous year’s log. Some cultures believe that the dead and other spirits walked on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, and the brightly burning Yule log helped protect the home from their invasion.
Once, these logs were enormous as they fit in open-hearth fireplaces. Now fireplaces are small or non-existent so Yule logs can be small or symbolic.
Logs with holes drilled to fit candlesticks and decorated with greenery make a popular substitution in the modern Pagan household. Consider making holes for four candles and when you light them say “Log burn, wheel turn, evil spurn, Sun return!”
Many also enjoy making Yule log cakes or Bûche de Noël.
Some Yule Log Traditions
- The log should be chopped by hand the day before Yule and prayers said in thanks to the tree.
- The log should be of a hard wood. Oak, elm, pear, ash, cherry or birch are variously mentioned.
- In one Bulgarian tradition, a hole is bored in the log and it is filled with oil, incense, and wine before it is placed on the fire.
- In Serbia, visitors should strike the burning log with a stick to make sparks fly while wishing that the good things the family experiences the coming year be as numerous as the flying sparks.
- The ashes from the Yule log can be spread in the garden to ensure abundant crops or around the house to protect from curses, evil spirits, and other harmful energies.
- Wood from the remains of the Yule log can be used to make amulets.
- The remains of the Yule log should be stored under a bed. It will protect the house from lightning strikes.
- If the Yule log goes out before the sun comes up, bad fortune will befall the household.
- If someone’s shadow cast by the Yule log’s flame has no head, that person will die before the next Yule.
The Yule Log in Modern Fiction and Pop Culture
In the 2018 Yuletide special of the Netflix series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the yule log is lit to prevent troublesome spirits from invading the home during the longest night of the year (when they are most powerful) and when it goes out, trouble ensues.