In its earliest days, the Yule Log was an entire tree that was carefully chosen and brought into the home with great ceremony. The largest end of the log would be placed in the fire hearth while the rest of the tree was sticking out into the house. The log would be lit with the remnants of last year's log which had been carefully stored away and fed into the fire throughout the twelve days of Christmas. Interestingly, it was thought very important that the relighting process was only performed by someone with clean hands. The lighting of the Yule Log wasn't only a cherished tradition, but they also provided warmth during the cold night of late December.
In the southern France region of Provence, it is tradition that the whole family helps to cut down the log and that a little bit is burned each night throughout the twelve days of the Christmas season. And should any of the log remain after the Twelfth Night, it is carefully stored in the home to protect it against being burned accidentally before the next Christmas. This same principle is carried out in some parts of Holland, as well, with the difference being the the leftover log must be stored under someone's bed!
In Cornwall, UK, the yule log is called The Mock. The wood is dried out and the bark removed before the log comes into the house and lit. Also in the UK, barrel makers, or coopers as they were called, would give their customers old logs that couldn't be made into barrels. The customers gratefully took these free logs and burned them as their Yule, or Mock, log.
The custom of the Yule Log spread all over Europe with different kinds of wood being burned in each country. In England, Oak wood is traditional while in Scotland, it's Birch. In France they prefer Cherrywood. The French like to sprinkle their log with wine (But of course!) so that it smells nice when it's lit. In Devon and Somerset, UK, some folks like to use a large bundle of Ash twigs in place of the log. This custom comes from the local legend that Mary and Joseph were very cold when the shepherds found them on Christmas Night so they gathered up a large bunch of twigs for them to burn. In Ireland, people use a large candle in place of wood and it is only lit on New Year's Eve and Twelfth Night.
For those of you interested in chemistry, different chemicals are often sprinkled on the logs to make them burn with pretty colored flames: Potassium Nitrate = violet; Barium Nitrate = apple green; Borax = vivid green; Copper Sulphate - blue; and Table Salt = bright yellow.
The ashes from the Yule Log are beneficial for plants because ash from burnt wood contains potash which helps plants flower. But don't throw the ashes out on on Chritmas Day. This is said to be very unlucky!
A chocolate desert log is traditionally served in France during the holiday season. It is called a bûche de Noël. In Belgium, these fabulous desert logs are called Kerststronk. Desert Yule Logs are actually a thin sponge cake that is filled with a yummy chocolate cream filling. They are rolled up, jelly roll-style, and iced with chocolate butter cream. The tines of a fork are run over the icing, vertically, to make markings that resemble tree bark. The log is then often decorated with meringue or marzipan "mushrooms" and dusted with powdered sugar to represent snow. When done correctly, these "Yule Logs" not only taste sensational, but are visually stunning.
Next Friday, I'll give you the history of the Christmas Tree. Have a great weekend everyone and I hope you'll join me back here on Monday.