Christmas in a World lit only by Fire

Yule LogChristmas celebrations borrowed freely from the mists of the pagan past. During the Regency era, the custom of dragging in a near tree trunk to provide heat for mid-winter festivities was adapted to celebrate the birth of Christ, the Light of the World.

The log was selected well ahead of time and allowed to dry. It would be taken into the house on Christmas Eve and was lit with a piece from the previous year’s Yul log. The log was expected to cook the dinner, heat the nog and wassail, and provide a merry flame all through Christmas Day as well. If it failed to last for the full day, it was considered an ill-omen for the coming year.br /br /I first ran across the custom a Yul log when I researched Norse culture for my Viking stories (written as Diana Groe). Norse people celebrated a mid-winter festival called Jul. Along with burning the Yul log, it was a day of copious eating and drinking. When night fell, a vigil was kept and even the most battle-hardened warriors trembled a bit in the flickering light of the central fire. They believed the veil between the worlds was thinnest on that night and the dead would cross through to visit the living. The table was set with rich meat and drink and left for ghostly visitors, hoping the specters would bear the living no grudges for any slight given them in life.

We don’t have a Yul log. We don’t even have a fireplace in our condo, but when I was a child, my grandmother solved the problem with a cardboard fireplace. She set it up every year in her living room with all the grandkid’s stockings hanging in a row. How Santa Claus managed to make it into the house through that cardboard portal was one of the great mysteries of my childhood, but since St. Nick was always kind to me, I was prepared to take a few things on faith!

Do you have a favorite childhood memory you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about it.

2 thoughts on “Christmas in a World lit only by Fire

  1. MiaMarlowe says:

    Deb–I grew up in Iowa and part of my childhood memories include harrowing road trips over ice and snow trying to make it to my grandparents in Missouri. There was one year in particular when the highways were closing behind us all the way and my sisters and I were bundled up in the back of the station wagon, cuddled together like a litter of puppies trying to stay warm.

  2. Deb says:

    My memory is also of Jul…since I’m Danish. ;) Grandpa Nielsen immigrated from Denmark. He made little heart-woven paper baskets to hang on the lower branches of the tree. Of course, he filled them with goodies (pebbernodder cookies) and sometimes a shiny new quarter. He also liked to have us hold hands and sing around the Christmas tree; around that gaudy, but shiny aluminum tree he and Grandma had. We didn’t have a Jul log, but when my parents built their house with a big fireplace in the rec room, we spent many evenings there in front of its blazing warmth.

    Merry Christmas, Mia, from Iowa.

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