Yule log – the surprising Pagan traditions behind Christmas chocolate cake

Five interesting facts about the Winter Solstice

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Yule logs are a delicious way to celebrate Christmas, whether you bake your own or simply decorate one of these sweet chocolate cakes. While the Yule log may appear to be a Christmas tradition in its own right, this rich dessert has a much deeper history dating back to the prehistoric Pagan community. The  winter solstice may have nothing to do with the modern take on this festive cake, but it has everything to do with the Yule log tradition – and this is why.

Yule logs are a delicious way to celebrate Christmas, whether you bake your own or simply decorate one of these sweet chocolate cakes. While the Yule log may appear to be a Christmas tradition in its own right, this rich dessert has a much deeper history dating back to the prehistoric Pagan community. The winter solstice may have nothing to do with the modern take on this festive cake, but it has everything to do with the Yule log tradition – and this is why.

What is a Yule log?

The sugary brown Yule log we all know and love may be an edible treat, but the original term refers to something quite different.

In the ancient Pagan tradition, a Yule log had a much more literal meaning which described a large log from an Oak, Birch or Cherry tree.

As part of this tradition, Pagan’s would carry the Yule tree trunk indoors and place it on the heart of the fireplace.

This huge wooden log would be placed with the largest end in the fire and moved further in as the log burns.

Why was the Yule log so significant?

Bringing the Yule log into the home was done with great ceremony to commemorate the 12 days of Christmas.

Lighting the log would involve remains from the previous years’ log which would be carefully stored away.

Burning the tree over the 12 day period remains the most significant tradition associated with the Yule log and has been adapted by many cultures across the world which each have their own unique twist on the custom.

In Cornwall, the log is called ‘The Mock’ which is dried out and has the bark removed before burning.

While in Provence, France), the whole family helps to cut the log and leftover wood which hasn’t burnt after the twelfth night is kept safe in the house to ward off lightning.

Those in the Netherlands have a similar tradition to the French, but the lof is stored underneath a bed.

And in Eastern Europe, the log would be cut down on Christmas Eve and lit that evening.

What does ‘Yule’ mean?

The winter solstice is one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world which is still celebrated to this day by neo-Pagans and druid groups.

While Yuletide still stands to mean Christmas to the modern-day Brit, the Pagan celebration of the winter sunset is thought to be the origin of this festive tradition.

It is thought that the Druids, Celts, and pre-Christian Pagans would light the log on the night of the winter solstice to symbolise the ‘rebirth of the sun’.

Burning the log would serve both a practical and spiritual purpose offering prosperity and warmth.

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Why do we decorate Yule logs?

Decorating a chocolate Yule log stems from the age-old tradition of covering the wooden log with pine cones, ivy, holly and evergreens.

These organic symbols would represent new life and the burning of the tree would reflect the rising of the sun on the morning after the winter solstice.

It may seem contradictory to decorate the log just to burn it, but the Pagan tradition keeps nature at the heart of this customary celebration.

Garnishing the Yule log signifies the connection between the earth and the sun which is the core focus of the celebration.

Lighting the decorated log is equally important as the symbols of peace, good luck and ‘new life’ are set alight.

According to the BBC: “The Celts thought that the sun stood still for twelve days in the middle of winter and during this time a log was lit to conquer the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring luck for the coming year.”

The decorative elements of the log play an important role in harbouring the positive spirits ahead of the new season which brings lighter, longer days.

For a hint of tradition in your Christmas Yule log, why not try adding the following colours to embrace the true meaning of Yuletide and the winter solstice:

  • Red, green and white to celebrate the new season
  • Gold, yellow, red and white to celebrate the sun
  • White, silver and black to represent the moon

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