The Yule Log

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Yule is the name of the old Winter Solstice festivals in Scandinavia and parts of Northern Europe and dates back to pre-medieval times. Originally, an entire tree would be brought into the house with great ceremony. The log was believed to have magic properties which ensured good luck during the coming year to those who helped to pull it over the rough ground.

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Illustration of people collecting a Yule Log from the Chambers Book of Days. 1832. Wikimedia Commons

In earliest times the log would be burned on a fire pit in the centre of the room. Later on, once chimneys became common and the hearth stood against a wall, the largest end of the log would be placed in the hearth whilst the rest stuck out into the room. It would be lit with the remains from the previous year’s log and would continue to burn throughout the twelve days of Christmas.

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The custom of the Yule Log spread all over Europe, and in each country different woods would be burned. In England, oak was common; in Scotland, it was birch. In France they chose cherry and often sprinkled the wood with wine to give a pleasant smell as it burned.

Today the custom is generally only remembered as a log-shaped chocolate cake (usually a Swiss roll) which is eaten around Christmas.

shutterstock_228205918In Viking times the celebrations were accompanied by various rites to the different gods as well as the usual feasting and drinking. Here is one very short section from my first book, Shadow of the Raven, which briefly describes some of the activities the people enjoyed. Ulf is the main character and Jorund is a young boy who has recently undergone a great trauma.


shutterstock_123315433December came and with it the celebrations of the Yule. Ulf helped Rico to loop thick ropes round a huge oak log and drag it across the frozen earth into the hall, where the women and children decorated it with sprigs of fir and holly. Throughout the festivities it smouldered in the hearth, helping to bring light and cheer to the darkest time of year. A wild boar was sacrificed to Frey, the god of fertility, to ensure a good growing season in the coming year, with warm days and gentle rain. A goat was slaughtered, and people dressed in goatskins and sang in honour of Thor, who rode the skies in his chariot pulled by two goats. The roasted meats were eaten during the celebratory feasts, and unlimited supplies of ale and mead kept everyone in festive mood.

And Jorund smiled for the first time since October.

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Thor in his chariot pulled by two goats

It sounds as though a fun time was had by all . . .

Merry Christmas to everyone!

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About milliethom

I am a reader and writer of historical fiction with a keen interest in the Earth's history and all it involves, both physically and socially. I like nothing better than to be outdoors, especially in faraway places, and baking is something I do when my eyes need respite from my computer screen.
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19 Responses to The Yule Log

  1. Thank you for such a delightful reminiscence 🙂

  2. maddmombetty says:

    Can’t wait to get the book!

    • milliethom says:

      If you’re talking about Book1, Betty, I’m still offering free copies in exchange for an honest review. (Although, I know that not everyone likes to do reviews!) If you’d like to do that, just email me at millie_thom@hotmail.com and I’ll email you a copy. Just let me know whether you need a Mobi or ePub file. The book has a new cover now, so it won’t be the one you see on my blog.
      I’m really flattered that you want to read it, so lots of hugs for that. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and thank you for your lovely comments these past weeks.

      • maddmombetty says:

        I can’t seem to get your email to come up. I keep getting error message. But, yes, I would love to read in exchange f an or an honest review. I would have to go with the pdf (is that what it is?) because I can never figure out mobi, and don’t have the right cables for it, anyway.

      • maddmombetty says:

        My email is maddmombetty at yahoo dot com.

  3. You are quite the historian!

    • milliethom says:

      I love history, Ashley, although it wasn’t my first teaching subject. Nowadays, it’s the main thing I concentrate on because of my writing. I’ve had to do a lot of resesrch into the Anglo Saxon and Viking period for the trilogy I’m in the middle of right now. It’s all fascinating. I hope you have a lovely Christmas, however you celebrate it where you are.

  4. What a fascinating story! 🙂 It was a wonderful feeling to read a lovely story like this 😉 That chocolate Swiss roll looked incredibly divine and wish I could take a bite of it 😛

    • milliethom says:

      Yes, Christmas is a time to get fat in the U.K. There’s so much rich food it’s no wonder everyone’s on diets in January. We never seem to learn haw to ‘moderate’.
      Haha. I agree that he history of the yule log is interesting, as is the history of the Christmas tree. Joy and happiness to you throughout the coming year.

  5. mojoshawn says:

    Very interesting!

  6. Quite fascinating and sounds like a lot of fun! Merry Christmas again Millie, Nathan and I will read your book in the new year.

  7. Pingback: The Versatile Blogger Award #1 | randommusings

  8. Pingback: WInter Solstice Celebrations Through Time | Millie Thom

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