My 2019 Yule log

Making a Traditional Yule Log: Easy Steps for 2024

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A Yule log has a special place in many holiday traditions. This beautiful and unique Yule decoration represents years of spiritual meaning during the Winter Solstice.

In this article, I’ll talk about Yule log history and how to easily make your own. I’ll even show you some classic twists I’ve made with mine over the years! I hope you love adding this tradition to your holiday celebrations!

Please note that I make every effort to ensure this information is correct and accurate through my own experiences and referencing sources throughout AND at the bottom of this article.

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What is a Yule Log?

A Yule log is a large piece of wood burned for warmth during the Yuletide season. In fact, the very first Yule log is believed to be so big it took an entire 12-day festival to burn it completely. (1)

A Yule log represents hope and fresh starts during the year’s dark and long nights. Around it, families and friends gathered to celebrate. 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.

Burning a Yule log is good luck for the upcoming year and offers light to the gloomy days.

Yule bucks [Yule Goats] and Yule logs are very often burned in combination with herbs and resins. The holy, healing ash is retained…

…Burning the Yule buck and Yule log not only provides healing ashes, but also brings outward and inward wealth. If you make a smoking fire with ash wood at the time of the Yule feast, wealth and luck will be yours!

These old Scandinavian traditions can be found in rudimentary forms in regions far from their origins.

Rätsch, Christian, and Claudia Müller-Ebeling – Pagan Christmas page 116
What is a Yule Log?

Alternative Names for Yule Log

The term Yule log is the most commonly used term but can also go by other names. According to historian Ronald Hutton (2), here’s a breakdown by different regions.

  • Yule Clog – North-east and north-east Midlands, also heard in Devon
  • Y Bloccyn Gwylian (the Festival Block) – Wales
  • ‘Yeel Carline’ or ‘Yeel Cyarlin’ (the Christmas Old Wife) – Scottish Highlands
  • Bloc na Nollaig (the Christmas Block) – Ireland
  • Yule Block – West Midlands and West Country
  • Gule Block – Lincolnshire
  • The Stock or the Mock – Cornwall
  • Christmas Brand/Braund/Brawn – Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Welsh Marches

Yule Log History and Traditions

The origins of the Yule log remain debated. Some believe it comes from ancient Germanic Winter Solstice celebrations or pagan fire rituals. Others believe it was introduced to Germany after the Middle Ages. Although its true origins are unclear, here’s what we know for sure.

Until the late 1800s, families used the kitchen or main room fire for light, heat, and cooking during winter evenings. In rural areas where wood was easily available, a huge Yule log was added to this fire during the Yuletide season. In some regions, people would compete to bring home the largest log. (Records from the 1600s and 1700s show this tradition was well-established across Britain).

The Yule log tradition began to decline in the late 1800s due to farming and home heating changes. However, many people still keep its history alive, although the practices have evolved, and the original meanings may have shifted over time.

A yule log in a farmhouse in Gotland, Sweden.
A yule log in a farmhouse in Gotland, Sweden before 1887. Photo licensed by Wikimedia Creative Commons, Author credit: Pehr Arvid Säve (1811—1887)

Yule Log Folklore

Some regions had certain folklore beliefs surrounding the Yule log. For example, the leftover ash from a Yule log was sprinkled on soil and said to bring good luck for the following harvest. We now know wood ash is full of potassium, which is great for plants!

In other areas, a small piece of charred Yule log was kept and placed under a bed to ward off misfortune, fires, or lightning. That makes sense, considering most houses were made of wood! Some regions also integrated traditions involving mythical creatures like Krampus.

The following year, the 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 of misfortune to the household.

As important as the Yule log itself were the charred splinters, embers, and ashes left over at the close of the Twelve Days of Christmas [Christmas Day through January 5th], for these were the bits the ancestors had touched and transformed into magical gifts. Swept up as carefully as if they were gold, they were dispensed as needed throughout the year…

…When tucked in the bed strings, it would protect the house from lightning, and when dropped down a well, it kept the water potable…

…there was only one way to light a Yule log, and that was with a bit of the previous year’s log. The idea was that the Yule fire never really went out, and that no one…ever really died, for how could there be death where there was light, love, and warmth?

Linda Raedisch – The Old Magic of Christmas

How To Make A Yule Log

In more modern times, pagans, witches, and spiritual practitioners infuse spiritual meaning, symbolism, and intentions into our Yule logs. Making a Yule log can be a fun celebration or a deeply spiritual practice.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating your own Yule Log, complete with decorations, recipes, and considerations for choosing the right wood.

My 2020 Yule log

Selecting The Right Wood

Before creating your Yule log, think about what spiritual meaning and intentions you’d like to include. Select wood that resonates with the themes you wish to manifest for the upcoming year.

Every 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)

Choose Your Log

Remember, you can feel free to use any wood you’d like or choose your Yule Log based on its spiritual meaning. Just make sure it’s dry so it burns well. If you foraged your log, make sure to trim it and remove any loose bark or debris.

A traditional way to make a Yule log is to use a small log. Cut one side to make it level—drill three holes to place tapered candles in. You can also wrap together a bundle of small logs or sticks without candles.

Yule Log Decorations

This is your chance to get creative and infuse your Yule log with your personal touch and festive flair! You can go over the top or keep it simple. Here are a few ideas to help get you started.

Natural Decorations

  • Evergreen branches
  • Pinecones
  • Dried Cranberries
  • Feathers
  • Dried Citrus Slices (to symbolize the sun and the return of the light)
  • Cinnamon Sticks, Star Anise, or Cloves
  • Dried Herbs or Herbal Sachets (like rosemary, lavender, or garden sage)
  • Pomegranates (signify abundance due to their excess of seeds, and their circular shape represents the sun)
  • Mistletoe
  • Dried Flowers (Baby’s breath, roses, sunflowers)
  • Leaves
  • Acorns
  • Sea shells
  • Dried figs

Symbolic Decorations

You can add these symbols to items you attach to the Yule, but I like to burn them directly into the wood.

Symbols carry deep spiritual meaning. By including them in your Yule log, it infuses their intentions and represents what you’d like to manifest for next year.

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Candlelight

Candles represent light and hope during the dark days of the Winter Solstice. They aren’t necessary for your Yule log, but they help add a cozy glow to the festive atmosphere.

Every candle color carries energy and unique meaning that will infuse into your Yule log. You can choose to use colors matching your decor or intentionally add specific candle color meanings. The choice is up to you!

If you’re interested in Candle Magic, learn more about it in this article on Candle Magic. Candles help create a focus for reflection and celebration of the return of light as the days get longer.

Creative Extras

Adding creative extras to your Yule Log decorations brings an extra touch of magic to your festive centerpiece. Personally, I only like to add things that will burn naturally, but the choice is up to you. Here are a few more ideas:

  • Colorful ribbons and bows
  • Write your intentions or wishes on small pieces of paper or bay leaves. When your Yule log is burned, these wishes will flow out into the Universe.
  • Colorful wax seals with symbols you find meaningful
  • Bells
  • Mirrors (to help reflect light and amplify energy)
  • Beads
  • Charms
  • Recycled Materials

How I Personalize My Yule Logs

I’m sharing my Yule logs of Yuletide past to help give you some ideas. Each year brought new opportunities to infuse personal touches and intentions into this beloved tradition.

2019 Yule log

In 2019, I opted for a beginner-friendly approach to avoid drilling holes for the candles. I gathered boxwoods from my garden, foraged a few items, and then store-bought decorations like firewood, baby’s breath, dried pomegranate, and cinnamon sticks from Trader Joe’s.
My 2020 Yule log

The following year, in 2020, my Yule Log took on much more symbolism. I incorporated dried mint, rosemary, and lavender from my 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.
2021 Yule log

In 2021, My husband and I each decided to decorate our own half of the Yule log without the other seeing until it was complete. Chatting and infusing our intentions into a beautiful piece of Yule decor was so much fun. 
Yule log

Try experimenting with different themes each year. You could also use elements associated with specific intentions. This will help bring a fresh perspective and deeper meaning to the yearly Yule Log tradition. Don’t forget to include the remains of last year’s Yule log if you have it!

Putting the Yule Log Together

Once you’ve picked the perfect log and gathered your decorations, it’s time to bring your log to life! Carefully arrange and attach your chosen decorations. I think a hot glue gun works best.

This is the fun part! Play music, use your creativity, and infuse your personal intentions into your Yule log. If you like, invite loved ones to help and let them add their wishes, too!

Slow down and embrace the joy of crafting a meaningful centerpiece that represents the spirit of your Yuletide celebrations!

Burning Your Yule Log

Burning the Yule log is a special tradition for many pagans, witches, and other spiritual practitioners. Many people burn it on Winter Solstice since it’s the longest night of the year. However, I prefer to do a ritual every New Year’s Eve to welcome next year and say goodbye to last year.

If you have a fireplace, gather around it with loved ones to light the log, stay warm, and share stories. Alternatively, try burning it outdoors in a bonfire celebration.

Remember, don’t burn it completely! Keep this piece under your bed all year long for good luck and protection. Next year, you can use this piece to help start your new Yule log!

Pagan Yule Log Ritual for Divination

The burning of the Yule log symbolized the shifting of darkness to light. It was known that the longest night of the year was here, and each coming day brought more warmth and light with it.

Creating an annual ritual is a lovely way to enjoy the Yuletide season! Feel free to change this ritual to fit your beliefs or make your ceremony more meaningful.

Gather Your Supplies

  • Decorated Yule Log
  • Matches or lighter
  • Journal, grimoire, or paper
  • Pen or pencil
  • Safe space for burning the log (fireplace or outdoor fire pit)

Illuminate the Night

Place your Yule Log in the designated burning area. Set your intentions for this ritual and focus on any questions you’d like answered. Speak your intentions aloud or silently.

Ground yourself and feel your connection with Nature and the elements around you. Use the matches or lighter to light the log.

Flame and Smoke Divination

Concentrate on the flames’ color, intensity, and movement as they grow. Gaze looking for any candle flame meaning or images, and allow your mind to wander. Pay attention to any visions, thoughts, or feelings that come up during this process. Remember to jot them down in your journal.

Read the smoke for divination as well. Notice the smoke’s direction; does it travel up straight, or does it seem to struggle moving upward? If the smoke rises up, this is a good sign because it shows no resistance. If it doesn’t, there may be challenges or complications ahead.

Closing

Thank Nature or any deities you worship for their presence and guidance. Allow the log to burn completely.

Review your journal entries in the following days or weeks. Look for patterns or connections between the observed flame and smoke meanings and how they may relate to the upcoming year. I like to revisit these readings throughout the year.

Remember, flame and smoke divination is very personal. Trust your intuition when interpreting the messages you received during this pagan ritual.

Miniature Yule Log

If burning a full-size log isn’t an option, you could decorate your home or sacred 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! Another great option is creating a mini version using a pine cone.

You could also create a smoke cleanser using the same materials. Try using a small cast iron to burn your Mini Yule Log. (I use one that’s 6.5 inches)

Yule Wishing Ornament

I hope this post was helpful! Lots of love to you, and remember, as always…

Sources

  1. Eldridge, Alison. “Yule”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 7 Nov. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Yule-festival.
  2. Hutton, Ronald. Stations Of The Sun. Oxford University Press. 28 June 2001.
  3. Raedisch, Linda. The Old Magic of Christmas: Yuletide Traditions for the Darkest Days of the Year. Llewellyn Publications. 8 October 2013.
  4. Rätsch, Christian, and Claudia Müller-Ebeling. Pagan Christmas: The Plants, Spirits, and Rituals at the Origins of Yuletide. Inner Traditions. 4 October 2006.

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