Traditions are grand things; they encompass us with a rich blend of history and relationships. However, some can be just downright …well, silly. I did a little research about the Yule Log and found out some interesting facts, which may just surprise you. Before I get into specifics of the Yule Log itself, it seem to me that more than a few of these legends got started in lands where cold and ice rule the landscape for months on end. I’m only suggesting that combined with the long months in darkness, the cold can play a few games with your mind. Which for me explains many of the wacky Yule time folklore stories.
From Iceland comes the disturbing tale of the giant …Yule Cat. This terrible feline was ready to make meow mix out of any and all lazy townsfolk, especially those who might have been less than ambitious in helping the town prepare for the long winter. Perhaps they were put in charge of the litter box, (a rather large litter box at that), and lost all motivation, who can blame them? However, slothful citizens in Iceland were not alone in their peril, it seems that poor people were also at risk to fall prey to this selective Yule Cat. For if it found you outside with old clothes on, you were a sure fire goner! This is the real reason all grandmothers give new socks and underwear every Christmas, it’s anti-Yule Cat protection for their grandkids. After all, no self-respecting Nana is going to going to risk losing one of her own to some oversized Garfield because of old underwear. The Yule Cat legend may also explain why the dog became man’s best friend; the dog may eat all your food in your house but at least not members of your household.
The Yule Log originates from some ancient Scandinavian festivals and the Vikings did their bit for history by spreading it around Europe through their numerous raids. Can you imagine Eric the Red saying, “Here ya go, we just raided your town and took all your stuff but we left you this Yule Log gig.” I think the modern day equivalent would be getting a holiday fruitcake, which I believe is flammable and could be used as a Yule log in a pinch, but I digress. Tradition states that a log was chosen in the forest, decorated with ribbons and carried back home. On the trip homeward the custom was that anybody meeting the procession should salute the log by raising his or her hat. Why the log would require such a greeting is beyond me, but if you were a barefoot woman or had flatfeet, you were excluded from the presence of the burning chuck of wood. A 4F rating that no doubt, kept many a fine young person from serving in the Yule Log burning service corps.
Through the years the legend grew in popularity and changed a bit. It was believed to be unlucky to buy a Yule log. The real lucky ones were found on one's own land or from a neighbor's wood. Which, for the neighbor trying to find his own Yule log, was not so lucky. People saved a fragment from the previous year’s log to use to ignite the new one. The homeowner would keep this under the bed to keep the house safe from fire and lightning (and perhaps Yule dust bunnies). Not lighting the log on the first try was a sign of misfortune (watch out for the Yule Cat) and touching it with dirty hands was a sign of disrespect. This early version of the duraflame log would have to burn unattended for 12 straight hours, but at least you got to eat during this time. Although, you would be a little distracted from eating your meal, since you had to carefully study the shadows cast upon the wall by the Yule log fire. A “headless” shadow was not good news for the person casting the shadow. A groundhog moment like this one supposedly foretold the demise of said person within the year. Here in America we have dispelled the myths of this long ago legend by reducing the Yule log to a video appearance on a DVD. You don’t really have to hunt for one, (except maybe at the mall), there are no wall shadows to worry about while you are chowing down and the DVD player could care less about your flat feet.
Yes, every Christmas I learn something new and surprising. The memories, the stories and traditions, collectively add to the discovery process I go through each year. It wasn’t always so, but God has faithfully showed me the right attitude to dive into at Christmas time. As fathers we have the privilege to be the one leading the celebration in our homes. That opportunity helps build memories, traditions (maybe even some silly ones, just for fun) and creates unity for the generations to come. Yet, over 2000 years ago, in a small Hebrew town, something more powerful than tradition rocked the world. Celebrating His birth does more than change the way I “do” Christmas, it transforms the way I am, the “who” I am. Because of that God injection into mankind, all the stories, memories and traditions become richer in our lives. Lets lead and enjoy the festivities with the focus on a Savior that came to give us so much more.
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.” Luke 1:68
Read more articles by Jay Cookingham or search for articles on the same topic or others.