While the origins of the Yule log are attributed to the Scandinavian countries or to Germanic paganism, most would say the tradition started in Ancient Rome, where entire trees would be burned in an effort to keep away Kallikantzaroi. Silent prayers would be offered while the tree was burning. Kallikantzarois was a demon/goblin, who lived underground but who would surface during the 12 days of Christmas to wreak havoc. Legends surrounding him were also found in Southeastern Europe and Anatolia (Turkey).
In France, the tradition was that the peasant would bring a gift to their Lord, hidden under a log and prayers would be offered when the log was lit. It is thought that the tradition of the Yule Log cake comes from France, called Bouche de Noel.
But it was the Celts whom we remember when we think of a Yule Log. In some Pagan traditions, the Oak King and Holly King continually battle throughout the Wheel of the Year. The Oak King reigns supreme at the Winter Solstice. The log, itself, was a symbol of the Oak King and was adorned with evergreens, which represent the Holly King. The log signifies the death of darkness and the rebirth of the Sun going into the New Year.
Traditionally, the Yule Log would be kept burning for 12 days and was lit on the night of the Winter Solstice. A piece of the Log should always be kept to be burned with the following year’s log. Also, ashes from the log should be retrieved and kept in a jar for luck during the year to come.
A Yule log is decorated with evergreens and red ribbon. Wishes can be written on small slips of paper to be burned along with the log itself. If you are in a place where you are unable to burn a log, simply drill holes in the log large enough for tapered or votive candles. Place candle tapers in the holes and decorate with evergreens. The candles will be burned in place of the log.
While I am the only Witch in my home, we have celebrated the Winter Solstice with a Yule log for many years. All of the lights are turned off to represent the darkness. I light one candle to see by. We link hands and I talk about the Log and what it means. In a nearby basket are lengths of different color ribbon. We go around our small circle with each of us taking the time to tie a ribbon on the Log and making a wish for the New Year. Sometimes, if a wish is too personal, it remains a silent wish. We continue to go around the circle until each one has finished with her/his wishes. At this time, I lay the Log onto the grate in the fireplace, and add the piece from last year’s Log. The Log is then lit, welcoming the re-birth of the Sun, and sending our wishes into the Universe, hopefully to be fulfilled by the Goddess.
We then turn the lights back on, exchange our Yule gifts and celebrate with our traditional Yule feast.
I wish you the joy, happiness and love of the holiday season and the blessings of the Goddess on this Winter Solstice.
May your Yule Log burn brightly, making all of your wishes come true.