The Yule log has long been a tradition in the West. Various beliefs and rituals surround this custom.
Powers of the Yule Log
Ancient people believed that the Yule log had special powers. This also applied to its ashes and charred remains. The Yule log could protect a household from evil spirits. It could supposedly get quarreling people to make peace. It was seen as a source of good luck, fertility, abundance, and good health. To ensure good luck, all sorts of customs and ideas arose about the log. Letting the fire go out, for example, was bad luck.
The charred remains or ashes were spread on the garden in the hopes of bringing abundance in the harvest season. People believed the ashes could protect grain stores from vermin. They also attributed powerful fertility powers to it. Folks believed it could make farm animals fertile. For the same reason, it was scattered around apple trees.
All sorts of beliefs existed about the power of the ashes. They could get rid of vermin in cats, cure toothache, and purify water. These could bring pleasant dreams, and keep away evil spirits and calamity. The idea that they could keep evil spirits away is similar to an ancient belief in Greece that fire was supposed to keep these spirits away. The ashes could protect from lightning. Even a piece of the charred remains could do the same. Either the ashes or charred remains were placed under beds and left there all year to prevent fires.
After the log was burned people sometimes kept some of it in the house for its healing and protective powers for it could supposedly continue to keep evil spirits away. This idea was also extended to its ability to prevent fire and lightning as well as its healing abilities both for human and animal ailments.
Rituals of the Yule Log
In order for the log to burn very slowly all day, this was soaked in water and kept in the back of the fire. People observed various rituals in the selection of the log. Some decorated the tree with greenery. Some sang special songs to it in order to ensure abundance and fertility.
It was often blessed. In some cases, wine was poured on it, which is similar to that of wassailing apple trees. Some poured wine on the log three times while they called for health, wealth, and happiness for the family.
As part of the Yule log ritual, the patriarch in French families traditionally would light the log in the kitchen and say the following blessing: “May our Lord fill us with happiness and if next year we have not more, O God, let us not have less.”
The log was sometimes blessed and sprinkled with food or grain. Some did special carvings on the log, particularly that of the human figure.
Customs and practices determined how the log was to be handled. Unmarried women had to wash their hands before touching it. A squinting or barefoot person would bring bad luck if they came into the room while the log was being lit. Omens could be seen in the shadows cast by the light of the fire.
In earlier times, children received gifts after the log was lit. This was done in Italy and other areas where Christmas trees weren’t in use.
The Yule candles were lit from the Yule log. In some cases, holes were cut in the log to hold the candles.
According to common beliefs, the person bringing in the log would have good luck. The log signified good will in the new year and good luck. The oldest person in the family said the blessing, and the log was lit.