The burning of the Yule Log dates back to the winter solstice celebrations of the Vikings. This was to celebrate the return of the sun, as the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, thus it is the point when days start to get longer again. As part of the celebration, you would fetch the biggest tree you can find, and drag it home, generally with draft horses or oxen. These things really weren't small. The log would be dragged to the hearth, and slowly fed into the fireplace over the course of the celebrations. It was expected to last the entire time.
When the Normans invaded England, they brought this tradition along with them. And then, like many pagan traditions, it was co-opted as a Christian tradition, becoming part of the Christmas celebration. Lit on Christmas Eve, the Yule Log was to be kept burning throughout the 12 Days of Christmas.
Yule Logs were generally chopped down either off of your own property, or your neighbors. It is considered unlucky to actually purchase a Yule Log, you're expected to just take it, generally with the permission of whoever owns the land. Also to preserve luck, you must light the Yule Log with the remnant of the previous year's Yule Log. ... What do you mean you didn't save it?! Bad luck for you!
Sprigs of holly were added to the fire, to burn away the bad luck of the previous year, and help ensure that the coming year would bring luck. Any unnecessary work around the house was to be avoided while the Yule Log was burning.
After the burning of the Yule Log, pieces of it left over were collected, to be stored under the bed of the owners of the household. This brought good luck, and warded off house fires. Ashes from the fire were also saved, and scattered around the fields, to bring good luck to the crops that year.
The tradition of the Yule Log has died off. After all, the vast majority of people don't have any groves of trees nearby their place where they can cut down a massive log, and they don't have a massive fireplace in which to burn said log even if they are able to obtain one. But, some people have fake Yule Logs! Instead of burning a big hunk of wood, people will eat a smaller pastry that looks vaguely like a log. They're generally something along the lines of a flat piece of cake, smothered in chocolate or coffee flavoured icing, and then rolled up to look like a log. Quite tasty! These are sometimes called Buche de Noel. Anyways, here's a recipe for a Tiramisu Yule Log.
Start with the icing:
Mix the egg yolks and the sugar in a food processor for half a minute. Then add the vanilla, and continue for another minute. Cut the cream cheese into several chunks, and blend them in with the mix one at a time, until the mix is smooth. Then pour this mix into a bowl, cover, and stick it in the fridge to cool for an hour.
Beat your whipping cream until, well, it's whipped cream. Mix it into the cream cheese mixture, and once again, cover and chill for an hour.
And now the cake mix:
Separate 2 of the eggs, and place the whites in one bowl, and the yolks in a 2nd bowl, along with the other two eggs, the extra yolk, and the 125 mL of sugar. Beat on high speed until it is thick, and fluffy, and about triple the original volume. Then beat in the vanilla.
Mix the cake flour and the cornstarch, and then slowly sift it into the egg mixture, mixing with a whisk or spatula. Beat the egg whites until they're foamy, toss in the cream of tartar and the tablespoon of sugar, and continue beating until the whites are slightly stiff. Then fold the whites into the batter, and spread the mix into a greased 40 cm by 30 cm jelly roll pan. Bake at 230° for about 7 minutes, or until it's a golden brown, and the cake is springy.
When done, sprinkle it lightly with powdered sugar, and flip onto a clean towel, and roll it up tightly in the towel, then leave on a cooling rack.
Once cool, mix the instant coffee powder with 300 mL of hot water. Unroll the cake, and brush this mix over the cake. Spread most of the icing over the roll. Then take the semisweet chocolate, chopped finely in a food processor, and sprinkle most of it over the icing. Roll the cake back up, and then spread the rest of the icing over the log, topped with the rest of the chocolate. And chill for another hour. Done!
Carol Morton "Christmas Tradition of the Yule Log," The Master Gardener - Advice and how-to tips from the very best Master Gardeners. <www.emmitsburg.net/gardens/articles/adams/2001/yule_log.htm> (January 2, 2005).
French Ministry of Culture. "The Yule Log," Christmas Traditions in France and in Canada. <www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/noel/angl/buche.htm> (January 2, 2005).
RecipeArchive.com. "Tiramasu Yule Log," RecipeArchive.com - Cooking good food with great recipes! 2002. <www.recipearchive.com/recipe1.php3?rid=452> (January 2, 2004).