Yule Log Cake and the History Behind This Christmas Tradition

Hello, my dears!

I can’t believe it is only five days until Christmas! Even less if you are reading this from the other side of the world. How are your Christmas preparations coming along? The holidays undoubtedly look very different for much of the world this year, but I would love to know what sorts of things you have planned. What are some of the traditions you and your family keep?

I hope that everyone who reached out about receiving a homemade Christmas card has received theirs. I mailed them on the last day of November, but as swamped as the postal service is this year, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of them take a while to reach their destinations. Please do let me know if you don’t get yours. I love making cards and I love you – my awesome online community.

So. I had this great idea, that I would make a Yule log cake (also called a Bûche de Noël if you want to sound fancy), share the recipe with you today before the winter solstice, and tell you about the history behind the tradition. In my fantasy, my cake would taste better than Mary Berry’s and look more beautiful than Paul Hollywood! But, alas, after two disastrously failed attempts which resulted in the wasting of food, the wasting of my time, and a wound to my pride, I decided to just buy the damn thing. This situation reminds me of the line in the cute movie “Calendar Girls” when Chris (Helen Mirren) wins the baking contest and gives the following advice on how she achieved such a light sponge: “Line the bowl with butter. Always use a warm spoon. And if it’s a special event, get it at Marks & Spencer’s.” Well, we don’t have a Marks & Spencer’s here, but we do have The Fresh Market, and it turns out they make a bloody good cake!

a chocolate frosted Yule log cake

The history of Yule is far-reaching (probably as far back as the Neolithic period), long before Yuletide ever became synonymous with Christmastide. The word ‘Yule’ comes from Old English geōl and is similar to an Old Norse word jōl, referring to a pagan midwinter festival. One can only imagine how difficult the long, harsh, dark days of winter must have been for early peoples who lived in the world’s northernmost lands. The winter solstice – the day of the year with the shortest amount of daylight – was tremendously important to these people whose very existence revolved around the seasons. The solstice meant the end of the dark and the beginning of the light. For folks in Nordic, Scandinavian, and later the Celtic lands, this midwinter festival called Yule or Yuletide was a time of joy and celebration, undoubtedly full of feasting and revelry.

There has been much written on the subject of Yule and all of the traditions, superstitions, rituals, and beliefs that centered around this festive period of time. One of those traditions was to bring a log – which was actually more like a massive block of timber- possibly the whole tree trunk! – into the home and to burn it in the hearth to remove all of the negative events, ailments, and mistakes of the previous year. Hm, you think after a crap year like we’ve all just had we should consider resurrecting this ancient ritual?

Like so many Christmas traditions that have their roots in pagan beliefs, Yuletide eventually made its way into Christianity as well. It became customary for the Yule log to be fired up on Christmas Day, and then kept alight throughout the twelve days of Christmas. A piece of the log was to be kept to light the next year’s fire, to carry the spirit of goodwill from one year to another.

Today, for many, a Yule log cake is an edible representation and reminder of the traditions of old. It is most commonly made of chocolate, although I have seen recipes for ginger, tiramisu, and even raspberry white chocolate! Traditionally a light sponge cake, it is made in a very shallow pan, rolled while still warm, cooled, filled with cream (the one I bought is rolled with a chocolate ganache), and then iced with chocolate and decorated to represent a real log. A real treat!

A chocolate iced Yule log cake that has been cut to  show the inside swirl

Oh oh oh!! Before I sign off for today, have you heard about the “Christmas Star” that will appear in the sky tomorrow night? If the skies permit, we will have the chance to witness a phenomenon that has not taken place in nearly 400 years, and one that has not been visible since it occurred nearly 800 years ago in 1226! Jupiter and Saturn, which are normally aligned in the solar system about every twenty years, have been inching closer together over the last couple of weeks, and tomorrow (on the winter solstice) the two planets will come together in an astronomical event known as a “Great Conjunction.” According to Nasa, this year’s spectacle is so rare because, “It’s been nearly 400 years since the planets passed this close to each other in the sky, and nearly 800 years since the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter occurred at night, as it will for 2020, allowing nearly everyone around the world to witness this “great conjunction.” This truly is a once-in-a-lifetime event! I hope you will pause for a minute to take in this truly magnificent occurrence. Click here to link to an article on space.com to read more about it.

Friends, you are a blessing. I wish each of you the happiest of Christmases and a new year overflowing with good things.

Until 2021…


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