The burning of a yule log originates from end-of-winter ceremonies that anticipate the coming of spring. Evergreens, such as firs, spruces and pines, are used for Christmas trees because they represent everlasting life. Boughs of holly symbolize the sun because this tree remains green throughout the darkest time of the year. Oak is traditionally burned as the yule log to welcome in the new solar year, and it represents wisdom, strength and healing.
The belief around yule logs is that if you keep a portion of the unburned wood in your home it will protect you and your home from harm. Interpret that how you will, and select a tree that has special meaning to you or the loved ones you want to give it to. The log itself can represent whatever good luck you want it to mean.
Here are some ways to incorporate your own version of a yule log into holiday celebrations, by turning surplus plant material into useful gifts that keep away various “evil spirits” in creative ways.
Ward Off Hunger
Nothing is more earthy and satisfying than fresh shiitakes sauteed in garlic butter. In about six or eight months, you can pick your own mushrooms from the logs you inoculate with spores.
About two years ago, my partner and I obtained some logs from a local arborist who was thinning a stand of oaks. We drilled small holes, pushed wads of spore-infused sawdust into the holes, and sealed them with hot wax or good ol’ duct tape. We gave some as gifts and kept several for ourselves.
The instructions for care are pretty simple: Put them where the sun don’t shine, and do what lazy gardeners do best: Forget about them. We’ve been surprised each time a new flush of mushrooms pops out, about five or six times per year.
Fend Off Felines From Furniture
Make your own scratching post using just about any kind of wood—it’s so simple. The one caveat is that that pine or cedar needs to be well-aged before use because the sap can be a problem. Choose logs around 5 inches in diameter or wider. Find a flat piece of scrap wood and screw or nail the log into the base, and there you have a bit of nature to lure kitty away from the furniture.
If kitty isn’t naturally drawn to the new sacrificial totem pole, try sprinkling a bit of catnip and rubbing it into the bark. Sweeping up a few wood bits and dried herbs is way better than reupholstering furniture. We’ve given this as a gift to other cat owners, and they’ve been very pleased with the results.
Beat The Winter Blues
Gather ’round the fire to tell stories. This might be one of the easiest ways to use that healing aspect of the oak tree. Bonfires bring out the storytellers in us, enhanced by the mysterious darkness. Mid-winter depression that can accompany less daylight and the stress of the holidays is lightened up, literally, by sipping cider and listening to tall tales in the flickering light. Here’s the story I’ll tell when we gather with friends and family for fireside chats:
So, I’ve had this ongoing problem with my toes that started probably when I worked on a ski slope and had to stand around on concrete in zero-degree temperatures. My toes swelled up and became extremely sensitive to temperatures and any type of pressure. Even putting on socks hurt. This has recurred every winter since, and doctors haven’t been able to explain it. Just a few days ago, I finally went hunting on the internet, and found a diagnosis. The description of perniosis, also known as chillblains, fits my symptoms. Finally, mystery solved. I rather liked the sound of the word, chillblains—it’s so descriptive of how I felt about my aching toes. Now, what do I do about them? The simple answer is to keep my feet warm and stay active.
As I read about the various mythologies and beliefs surrounding the burning of the yule log, at first I scoffed at the idea that keeping a piece of the unburned log will bring good luck and ward off evil spirits throughout the year. The list of those evil spirits could be anything from mildew to lightning to hail to chillblains. Chillblains?! Really? I had just learned this word, and here it was again. This must be the spirit of Christmas sending me a clear message to use the yule log to keep my toes warm. Lots of dancing around the fire. Goodbye chillblains, hello chillaxing.
Your Own Yule Log
With the shorter days, this time of year can be fatiguing, but remember the cycle will soon shift again. For many summers, that special tree you’ve chosen to repurpose was capturing sunlight with the chlorophyll in its leaves, and storing it in the woody tissue as it grew. Now, in these dark days, you can release a bit of that stored energy to keep the winter blues away. Unwrap a little magic that’s been saved up, a bit of mid-summer light held in this gift of nature.