The custom of burning the Yule record goes back to, and before, the medieval times. It was originally a Nordic tradition.
Yule is the name of the old winter solstice festivals in Scandinavia and other parts of northern Europe, such as Germany. The Yule Log was originally a complete tree, which was carefully chosen and taken to the house with a great ceremony. The largest end of the trunk would be placed in the hearth of fire while the rest of the tree protruded into the room! The record would light up with the remains of the previous year’s record, which had been carefully stored and slowly fed into the fire through the Twelve Days of Christmas. It was considered important that the re-lighting process be done by someone with clean hands. Nowadays, of course, most people have central heating, so it is very difficult to burn a tree!
In Provence (in France), it is traditional for the whole family to help reduce the trunk and burn a little each night. If any of the logs is left after the Twelfth Night, it will remain safe in the house until next Christmas to protect it from lightning. In some parts of Holland, this was also done, but the registration had to be stored under a bed! In some Eastern European countries, the trunk was reduced on the morning of Christmas Eve and lit that night.
In Cornwall (in the United Kingdom), the record is called ‘The Mock’. The trunk is dried and then the bark is removed before it enters the house to burn it. Also in the United Kingdom, the manufacturers of barrels (or Coopers as the producers of barrels they were traditionally called) gave their clients old logs that they could not use to make barrels for the trunks of Yule. (My surname is Cooper, but I do not make barrels! My great grandfather had a cane factory!)
The custom of Yule registration spread throughout Europe and different wooden children are used in different countries. In England, oak is traditional; in Scotland it is birch; while in France, it is cherry. In addition, in France, the trunk is sprayed with wine, before it burns, so that it smells good when it is lit.
In Devon and Somerset in the United Kingdom, some people have a very large pile of ash twigs instead of the trunk. This comes from a local legend that Joseph, Mary and Jesus were very cold when the shepherds found them on Christmas night. So the shepherds have some clusters of twigs to burn to keep them warm.
In some parts of Ireland, people have a large candle instead of a trunk and this only goes on on New Year’s Eve and the twelfth night.
Different chemicals can be spread on the trunk like wine to make the trunk burn with flames of different colors!
- Potassium nitrate = violet
- Barium nitrate = Apple green
- Borax = Living green
- Copper sulfate = blue
- Table salt = bright yellow
This sounds very dangerous, so please just try this with adult supervision!
The ashes of the Yule trunks were meant to be very good for the plants. This is true, because the ash from the burned wood contains a large amount of potash, which helps to plant flowers. But if you throw away the ashes on Christmas day, it was supposed to be very unfortunate!
A chocolate Yule Log or ‘bûche de Noël’ is now a popular Christmas desert or pudding. It is traditionally eaten in France and Belgium, where they are known as ‘Kerststronk’ in flamenco.
They are made of a roll of chocolate sponge layered with cream. The exterior is covered with chocolate or chocolate glaze and decorated to look like a trunk covered with bark. Some people like to add additional decorations such as marzipan mushrooms!