Decorating a Yule log is a beautiful way to enjoy the pagan holiday of Winter Solstice!
During the longest night of the year, we rest, contemplate, and consider our lives and the paths we’d like to take. Even now, at the darkest time, we know that each day will bring more warmth and light. That the sun will rise again, bringing with it hope and joy. I hope this helps you feel inspired to celebrate Winter Solstice.
Many Pagans, Witches, and those interested in Nature Spirituality celebrate the seasonal cycles. Sometimes referred to as the Pagan holidays or the Wheel of the Year, consisting of eight celebrations. Four of these festivals (Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain) are rooted in Celtic history and origins.
The other four (Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, Autumn Equinox, and Winter Solstice) represent the sun’s location. I created a complete guide to each season, including history, traditions, symbols, correspondences, ritual ideas, and how you can celebrate.
Please note that I make every effort to ensure this information is correct and accurate through my own experiences and by referencing the sources listed at the bottom of this article.
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What is a Yule Log?
A Yule Log is an ancient pagan tradition involving placing a large log or an entire tree on your home’s hearth. People would carry the Yule tree trunk indoors, set the larger end in the hearth, and continue to inch it in until it burned completely.
In more modern times, a Yule log consists of wood typically decorated with symbolic herbs, plants, flowers, or candles.
“Yule” came from the Norse word hweol, meaning wheel. The Norse believed that the sun was a great wheel of fire that rolled towards and then away from the earth.History – Christmas Traditions Worldwide
The Yule log burning symbolized the shifting of darkness to light. They knew that the longest night of the year was here, and each day brought more warmth and light with it.
Yule Log Traditions, History, and Origins
Yule logs are rooted in pre-Christian Pagan history, although no one knows the exact origins. Most believe this seasonal ritual originated as ancient Germanic midwinter practice.
However, there are a few that believe it may have Celtic origins.
It was also the Druids who began the tradition of the yule log. The Celts thought that the sun stood still for twelve days in the middle of winter and during this time a log was lit to conquer the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring luck for the coming year.BBC – Religions – Winter Solstice
It was customary for the Yule log celebration to be an entire family affair, and everyone joined in to find and harvest the perfect tree.
The tree that the Yule Log was harvested from had to be gifted or cut from your own land. It was considered unlucky to buy the tree. Families would decorate logs with pinecones, ivy, holly, or evergreens (which represented new life).
They would place the massive log onto their hearth on Winter Solstice evening to welcome the sun’s return, bring abundance, and honor various gods.
The Yule log could have served a practical purpose as well. Due to its magnitude, girth, and size, it would burn all day, ensuring that no one would have to relight the fire during the midwinter celebrations.
A small piece of the Yule log was kept and placed under a bed to ward off misfortune, fires, or lightning. Which makes sense considering most houses were made of wood!
The following year, that leftover Yule Log piece was used to start the fire for the new Yule log. If the new Yule Log didn’t light on the first try, it was believed to be a bad omen foretelling misfortune and tragedy to the household members.
The Yule log ashes were said to be unique and planted in the soil for good luck. We now know that wood ash is full of potassium which is great for plants!
As Christianity grew, the Yule log tradition continued. However, on a more modest scale since fireplaces or hearths had become much smaller. Those fireplaces were great for baking cakes, though! The origination of the first Yule log cake or ‘bûche de Noël’ is unknown, but some believe it could be as far back as the 1600s.
How To Make A Pagan Yule Log To Burn
One traditional way to make a Yule log is to use a small piece of wood. Cut one side to make it level—drill three holes to place tapered candles in. You could use it as a table centerpiece until Winter Solstice and then burn the whole log in your fireplace or backyard fire pit.
The color of the candles placed inside is chosen based on what they represent. Feel free to select any colors that you feel drawn to, but here are a few ideas!
- Red, green, white (celebrate the season)
- Gold, yellow, red, or white (to represent the sun),
- White, silver, and black (to represent the moon).
Another option is using a bundle of small logs without candles (like I did in the photo above). I think it’s pretty lovely and festive. Burn yours in a backyard fire pit and make it a fun family event! Have everyone snuggle up in jackets, mittens, blankets, beanies, and earmuffs! Drink warm cocoa, cider, or mulled wine. Discuss what you’re most grateful for from the previous year and what dreams or goals you have for the next!
What Type of Wood is A Yule Log?
Each type of tree is unique and can symbolize different intentions. Most of these correspondences coincide with the Celtic Ogham alphabet and symbols. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Birch (fertility, creativity, cleansing, and new beginnings)
- Aspen (defeating your fears, divination, spiritual knowledge, and perception)
- Oak (intellect, leadership, security, resilience, endurance, and wisdom)
- Pine (success, well-being, joy, excitement, and spiritual awakenings)
- Ash (wealth, prosperity, transitions, growth, peace, and the strength of women)
- Holly (protection, expertise, analysis, and opens your mind to accept revelations (useful for divination)
- Willow (balance, intuition, sentimental feelings, the flow of water, and to honor a god/goddess/deity)
- Yew (ancestry, history, aging, dying, transitions, thoughts, and memory)
- Rowan (defense, control of one’s actions, in defense of animals, growth, and fresh ideas)
- Alder (spiritual guidance, creativity, choices, and safeguarding yourself against harm)
- Hazel (knowledge, creative inspiration, proficiency, and practicality)
Remember, you can feel free to use any type of wood you’d like or choose your Yule Log based on its corresponding meanings.
What Are Some Examples of Yule Log Decorations, Correspondences, and Symbolism Ideas?
You can add anything you like to your Yule log! Here are a few ideas in addition to those above and their corresponding intentions.
- Cinnamon sticks – Good luck
- Lavender – Happiness, luck, and peace
- Dried oranges – symbolizes the sun and the shifting of dark to the light
- Ivy – healing, love, protection, and representative of the seasonal cycle of death and rebirth
- Pomegranates – signify abundance due to their excess of seeds, also its circular shape can represent the sun
- Baby’s breath – since they are so delicate and white, baby’s breath symbolizes purity, innocence, and love
- Cloves – protection and clarity
- Star Anise – symbolizes good luck, purification, and opens up psychic abilities
- Pine cones – illustrative of the pine tree, who even during the darkest season of Winter still remain green. A representative of prosperity, comfort, and protection. You could also use boxwood branches for similar reasons.
- Rosemary – burning rosemary is said to cleanse the air of negativity. I’ve used rosemary to say farewell to any negativity from the past year and clear the way for a positive new year.
- Mistletoe – promotes healing and encourages fertility
My Yule Log from 2019
I wanted to avoid drilling spots for candles to make it easy for any beginners using it for inspiration. I included boxwoods from my own garden, foraged for some bits, and bought the rest (like baby’s breath, dried pomegranate, and cinnamon sticks) at Trader Joe’s.
My Yule Log from 2020
This Yule log incorporated a lot more symbolism and dried mint, rosemary, and lavender from my own backyard. I used a 1 1/2″ paddle bit to drill the holes in my Yule log so I could place candles with corresponding intentions.
Don’t forget to add last year’s Yule log if you have it!
You can watch how I made this Yule log as well as other DIY Winter Solstice decor here. The Yule log starts at 7:15.
Pagan Yule Log Ritual Ideas
Now that you’ve created your Yule Log, I bet you’re wondering what you should do with it! There are many different ways to use your yule log, and I’d encourage you to try creating your own traditions and rituals! Here are a few ideas to get you started!
A Yule Log is a beautiful centerpiece for your kitchen table, and you could add additional greenery, candles, a table runner, or any other symbolic items you find meaningful to accompany it!
Yule Log Burning Ritual
This is a lovely tradition you can add to your family celebration for Yule and Winter Solstice (although I enjoy burning mine on New Year’s Eve. If you have a fireplace feel free to burn your Yule Log indoors, or if you have an outdoor fire pit, you can also do it outside! If you choose to burn indoors, turn off all the lights in the house (I typically still leave my holiday lights on).
Now is a great time to have each family member discuss what they’d like to accomplish and change in the coming year. Each family member can also feel free to journal and reflect quietly on their own.
Have each family member write down a bad habit they would like to give up. They could also add goals, dreams, or an intention they would like to manifest. Slip all the bits of paper into the Yule Log before lighting it.
Once the Yule Log fire is lit, the bits of paper will burn, and all those thoughts, dreams, and wishes will be sent out into the universe!
I also like to add some rosemary to banish any negative from this year and open up positivity for next year. As the Yule Log burns, ruminate on this past year: what have you learned, what are you grateful for, and what challenges did you overcome?
Make sure to honor the ancient tradition and keep the last bit of your Yule Log for next year’s burning ritual.
Create A Miniature Yule Log
If burning a Yule log isn’t a feasible option, you could also decorate your home/meditation/altar space with a symbolic MINI YULE LOG! I made two examples for you in the photos below.
Use cinnamon sticks, 4 – 6″ branches, evergreens, holly, or any decorations you feel connected to!
You could also create a smoke cleanser using the same materials. I’ve even seen someone use a small cast iron pan to burn their incense and candles on their altar. That is the most magical idea I’ve ever heard of!
Another great option is creating a mini version using a pine cone.
I hope this Yule log post was helpful! Sending you so much love during your Winter Solstice and remember as always…