In Scandinavian countries each year during the Winter Solstice it was tradition to heave a huge log into a large hearth to commemorate the sun’s return.
Picture of Yule log courtesy of Rocksweeper.
The Yule log was usually an Oak log however, Ash was also used in order to grant wisdom and good fortune.
The women would gather to bless and cleanse the home from negative spirits. The oldest male and family members would seek out the ideal large Yule log for the hearth. They would have to anchor large ropes around it and drag it back to their home. It was considered a bad omen to cut the log from a living tree.
The Yule log was rubbed with ale, mead or whiskey and dressed with greenery.
Ornamental shapes were carved into the log, often in the image of Holda or Cailleach for the Celts, her image represented the cold, darkness and death, once tossed upon the hearth winter was exchanged for heat, light and life.
The Yule log was kept lit throughout the Winter Solstice to prevent evil spirits from entering the home and represent welcoming the Solar year.
Many ghost tales were told in front of the warm fire as well as toasts and wishes made. Over the years folks often tie their prayers and petitions to the Yule log before it is tossed into the fire. Sometimes part of the Yule log is saved for the next winter.
Source & Reference:
*Grimm, Jacob (James Steven Stallybrass Trans.) (1882). Teutonic Mythology: Translated from the Fourth Edition with Notes and Appendix Vol. I. London: George Bell and Sons.
*Picture of Yule log cutting in Public Domain.