I’ve been attempting to do some research on a few Yule traditions and decided to dedicate a post to the Yule Log and to the roles Evergreen trees played as well (or the roles that they actually didn’t play). I think I felt inspired to use these as my first topics since husband and I recently got our tree for our house. It appears that a lot of Yule traditions stem from Germanic Paganism, but the Yule Log may have Anglo-Saxon pagan ties. From what I’ve gathered, there isn’t a definitive answer.
So far I’ve found that the Yule Log was/is a very important part of the Yule celebration. It celebrates the light returning and defeating the darkness; representing the days becoming longer with the Spring/Summer months returning (or the birth of The Sun God in some views). The Yule Log did/does have superstition surrounding it, in that you must be gifted the log or it must have been grown and harvested from the land of the homeowner. It is also thought to be unlucky if you had to relight the log after it had already started to burn (from what I’ve read, this is a more modern belief though). Some sources say the Yule Log would be set ablaze once placed on the hearth and others claim it would be decorated before it was burned by adorning it with holly, evergreen boughs, mistletoe, and other seasonal representations. On the burning of the Yule Log, I’ve read two different claims. One writes that the Yule Log would be left to burn down to ash overnight and the ashes would be allowed to smolder for 12 days before being properly/respectfully extinguished. And the second was that a Nordic Yule tradition was to bring a large log to the village and burn it as a sort of bon fire. The burning would last up to 12 days, during which everyone would feast/celebrate until it burned itself out. Either way, both of these ideas do give some connection to the 12 Days of Yule. I only saw one source that specified the type of log that would be used for this tradition and that was a log from the Ash tree.
Speaking of trees, let’s talk about Yule trees and Evergreens! So I was given the impression a number of times that Yule trees were originally a Pagan tradition, but I haven’t found totally reputable sources to substantiate that claim. One source actually points out that, while Evergreen boughs were decorated, used to make wreaths, and displayed in and around homes, the trees themselves were never cut down as this would have been too destructive towards nature for most European Pagans. I don’t know if that claim is 100% true, but the origins of the modern Christmas tree date back to the Renaissance in Germany and was popular among the upper class, devout Christians. They may have gotten the idea to use trees from Pagans, as many (particularly Vikings and Saxons) worshipped the evergreens during the winter for their symbolism of immortality, but the Pagans themselves do not appear to have cut down the trees and display them. I also couldn’t find information supporting the idea of simply decorating a specific tree and claiming it to be a “Yule Tree”. Yes, it does appear that they would place offerings on the boughs of evergreens, but this seemed to be a general practice for multiple evergreen trees vs our modern “pick a tree, decorate it, call it our Christmas/Yule tree” tradition.
That concludes this post on my Yule tradition studies so far. I have a few more I wish to do before actual Yule begins. I’m feeling the itch to buy witchy books and do more book research vs internet research. Hopefully this post was helpful and relatively knowledgable. I will say, some of it comes from Wikipedia, so I’ve tried to keep it as reliable as possible, but do understand that I am still learning and do not claim this is 100% truth/Pagan gospel. If there is misinformation, please let me know (and point me in the direction to the source) or feel free to share other things you may have learned or heard about when it comes to the Yule Log and use of Evergreens during Yule in Paganism.
Blessings to you all!