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Once upon a time, people in Europe (especially France and Italy) would gather in a freshly cut log on Christmas Eve for the hearth. This log was treated with the utmost respect.

It received offerings of wine, salt, and aromatics while the family said prayers or made wishes. Small bits of this log were kept as good luck charms for the year, and the ashes from it were considered the ultimate protection against lightning strikes. But why a log?

More than likely the concept originated with the ancient Druids who held trees in great reverence, along with all natural spirits. Another possibility is that it ties to leaving gifts for the spirits of nature in evergreens (the origin of our Christmas Tree). In either case, the Yule Log was part of the festivals for the dead, common during winter months.

It wasn’t uncommon during these festivals to light ritual fires to chase away the darkness and inspire good fortune from the gods.

The gathering of the Yule log and how each household used it varied according to the region. No matter those variances, however, this log was considered to house great magic, which was improved by allowing it to burn for at least 12 hours (longer for bigger pieces). So much was the case that parts of the old Yule log would be carefully kept to light next year’s holiday fire, some would be scattered on the fields for improved crop yield, and even tossed into wells to purify water.

Modernly Yule logs take three forms.

One is the simulated log projected on TV with a mixture of holiday songs playing in the background.

A second is a cake log, typically made from rolled chocolate cake with white frosting, candles, and decorative touches.

The third version can be recycled from your Christmas Tree for the following year. In this last instance, when you take down your tree remove all the branches and cut up the trunk in several functional pieces for your fireplace or wood burning stove.

Put this somewhere to age over the next year, but keep it separate from other wood so you can know which piece to light the following Christmas Eve. As you do, say your wishes and share your memories from previous years with family and friends. Wala! An old custom is reborn.

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