It’s been a holiday tradition to burn a Yule log even before there was a Christmas. It signifies that it is time for friends and family to gather near for songs, stories and fun, and until the Yule log burns out, there’s no more working.
In its beginnings, the Yule log was burned as a celebration of the winter solstice. Yule ran from several weeks before the winter solstice to a couple weeks after in Scandinavia, as this was the coldest and darkest time of the year. And though the Yule log is named from this Scandinavian tradition, the practice of burning a special log during the winter months was a tradition in many countries across the world.
When Pope Julius I decided to celebrate Christmas around the time of the Winter Solstice during the fourth century, the Yule log tradition continued, but the light from the burning log represented the light of the Savior instead of the light of the sun.
Traditionally on or about Christmas Eve, a big log was brought into the home or a larger gathering place. People would sing and tell stories while children danced and played. The log was even decorated, and food and wine were placed upon it as offerings. It was also a way of starting the New Year with a fresh start as a person’s mistakes and shortcomings were burned in the flame of the log. Songs were sung and stories told. Children danced. Offerings of food and wine and decorations were placed upon it. The log was never allowed to burn completely; leftover pieces of it were kept in the house to start next years log and also to bring good luck to the home. It was believed those pieces would protect the home from fire, lightning or other acts of nature. Ashes of the log would be placed in wells to keep the water good and spread at the roots of trees, vines and sprinkled upon gardens and crops to ensure a good harvest.