A Yule log is a large log which is burned in the fireplace as a part of traditional Yule or Christmas celebrations in some cultures. It can be a part of diferent celebrations including the Winter Solstice festival, the Twelve Days of Christmas, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or Twelfth Night.
The expression "Yule log" has also come to refer to log-shaped Christmas cakes, also known as "chocolate logs" or "Bûche de Noël".
Of course, our Yule Log Fireplace Screensaver is definately not a chocolate cake.
In the U.S., the Yule log has also become a modern tradition: in TV screens and computer monitors showing video of an actual Yule Log burning in a real fireplace. The video is often accompanied by Christmas music, actual crackling fire sounds, or both at the same time. This is now a very popular trend, but it began on a whim in 1966. Fred Thrower, former TV programming director for WPIX in New York City, wanted to offer a Yule Log for the majority in New York City who had no real fireplace of their own. It has been offered for several hours each year (on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day) as a video greeting card to viewers, and is syndicated across the U.S. Many others have offered their own versions over the years on TV, and in all video formats.
But How did the name "Yule Log" come about?
In Northern Europe, winter festivities were once considered to be a Feast of the Dead, complete with ceremonies full of spirits, devils, and the haunting presence of the Norse god, Odin, and his night riders. One particularly notable Solstice festival was "Jol" (also known as "Jule" and pronounced "Yule"), a feast celebrated throughout Northern Europe and particularly in Scandinavia to honor Jolnir, another name for Odin. Since Odin was the god of intoxicating drink and ecstasy, as well as the god of death, Yule customs varied greatly from region to region. Odin's sacrificial beer became the specially blessed Christmas ale mentioned in medieval lore, and fresh food and drink were left on tables after Christmas feasts to feed the roaming Yuletide ghosts. Even the bonfires of ancient times survived in the tradition of the Yule log, perhaps the most universal of all Christmas symbols.
The origins of the Yule log can be traced back to the Midwinter festivals in which the Norsemen indulged in nights filled with feasting, "drinking Yule" and watching the fire leap around the log burning in the home hearth. The ceremonies and beliefs associated with the Yule log's sacred origins are closely linked to representations of health, fruitfulness and productivity. In England, the Yule was cut and dragged home by oxen or horses as the people walked alongside and sang merry songs. It was often decorated with evergreens and sometimes sprinkled with grain or cider before it was finally set alight.
In Yugoslavia, the Yule log was cut just before dawn on Christmas Eve and carried into the house at twilight. The wood itself was decorated with flowers, colored silks and gold, and then doused with wine and an offering of grain. In the area of France known as Provence, families would go together to cut the Yule log, singing as they went along. These songs asked for blessings to be bestowed upon their crops and their flocks. The people of Provence called their Yule log the tréfoire and, with great ceremony, carried the log around the house three times and christened it with wine before it was set ablaze.
To all Europeans, the Yule log was believed to bring beneficial magic and was kept burning for at least twelve hours and sometimes as long as twelve days, warming both the house and those who resided within. When the fire of the Yule log was finally quenched, a small fragment of the wood would be saved and used to light the next year's log. It was also believed that as long as the Yule log burned, the house would be protected from witchcraft. The ashes that remained from the sacred Yule log were scattered over fields to bring fertility, or cast into wells to purify and sweeten the water. Sometimes, the ashes were used in the creation of various charms, to free cattle from vermin, for example, or to ward off hailstorms.