|The parlor fireplace in the Hofauger House ca. 1850|
The following description is an excerpt from Peterson's Magazine, December 1854:
"The custom of burning the Yule-log was, it appears, of Anglo-Saxon origin. That race of people were in the habit of celebrating a feast at the winter solstice, which they called the Juul or Yule, and on this occasion they were wont to burn a large log of wood, as an emblem of returning light and heat, the sun being then at its furthest point from them. From that feast the burning of the log became transferred to the eve of Christmas Day; and, as such, was never omitted up to the early part of the present century [19th century]. It is now rarely met with, and then only in very remote rural districts.
The Yule-log was the stem of one of the largest trees that could be found on the estate of the proprietor in whose halls it was to raise its cheerful flame. It was hewn down on the Candlemas Day, in the month of February of the same year; then kindled where it fell, and suffered to burn until sunset, when the fire was extinguished, and the log laid in a proper place until it was required at Christmas. At the appointed time it was carried into the mansion hall by a number of domestics, amidst much rejoicing, and kindled on the hearth with no little mirth and merry-making. It was generally large enough to last during that night and the whole of the following day."
***************************In addition to selecting a huge log, folks would soak the log in water for days so that it would burn slowly. Tradition stated that as long as the yule log burns, the celebrating can continue. It was considered to be bad luck if the Yule log was allowed to go out accidentally. A portion of this year's log was always saved to use as kindling when next year's Yule log was lit. Keeping a portion in the home throughout the year was believed to protect the home against lightning strikes and fire. A bit of the ash sprinkled into springs or wells was supposed to keep the water fresh and good for the upcoming year. Ashes were also sprinkled around fruit trees to increase the harvest.
Since many modern day homes do not have a wood burning fireplace, our version of the Yule Log would be the DVDs and cable television stations that depict logs burning in a fireplace. Much safer and less messy, but not as cozy!