Christmas Traditions

Page 6

Here’s what you’ll find on this sixth page:

Yule Log


Depending on the reference, the exact origin and definition of “wassail” varies. There is agreement, however, that it has Anglo-Saxon roots. In some cases “wes hal” is translated as “to be whole, in good health.” Others say “woes pu hoel” translates to “be thou hale” or “be in good health.” There are other versions such as “ves heill” and waeshaeil” but I think you get the idea: good health and happiness.

Like many other traditions, wassailing also has Pagan roots. They went from orchard to orchard to awake the cider apple trees and scare away the evil spirits so they would have a good harvest come autumn.

January 17th is the traditional date for Wassailing. But exactly when it occurs (this is still done in England), and exactly how it is done varies from orchard to orchard.

Essentially a wassail King and Queen lead the festival. A song or processional tune is played or sung. The thought was that the noise would chase away the evil spirits.

The best or oldest tree in the orchard is selected as the guardian for all the trees. Pieces of toast soaked in cider are placed in the tree and then cider is poured around the base.

Believe it or not, shot guns are fired up into the top branches and buckets are beaten. The thought is the noise will scare away the evil spirits and awaken the trees. There are those who believe that without wassailing, there won’t be a harvest.

Now, after the “business” end of the festivities is completed the fun continues with more cider, song, music, food and fun.

It is said that many wassailers also went from door to door. Generally these were the poor folk knocking on the door of the manor. If the lord didn’t pay out in some way with food or coins, the wassailers made unreasonable amounts of noise and were even known to vandalize the home. This door to door singing is believed by some to have evolved into Christmas caroling. Perhaps it did.

Santa and wide-eyed children - circa 1950

More treasures and Christmas traditions – combined with Olde-Time Christmas stories and more – help create wonderful memories of this blessed season for all ages.

Yule Log

Burning a Yule log is yet another tradition traced back to pagan beliefs and festivals. In nearly all cases as the pagans were converted to Catholicism and Christianity, many of their customs were transformed and adopted to celebrate their new faith.

The custom dates back to the 12th century. Basically the European pagans harvested a very large log – usually the largest on the owner’s land – and dragged it into the house. A log received as a gift could also be used, but never was it acceptable to “buy” a log.

Once placed in the hearth it was decorated with seasonal greenery, doused with cider or ale, and dusted with flour. Then it was set ablaze.

It would burn throughout the night and then smolder for 12 days before it could be extinguished. A piece of the log was kept throughout the year for protection.

The Yule log symbolizes the return of the Sun; of light returning with Spring to conquer the Winter darkness. Also this leftover piece of log was used to start the new Yule log in the following year.

Variations of the tradition and legend have the young girls of the house lighting the log as the father says prayers. In other families the mother has the honor of lighting the log. They believed the cinders of this log could protect the house from lightning and the malevolent powers of the devil.

Choices about the variety of wood, the way in which it was lit and the length of time it took to burn constituted a genuine ritual which could vary from region to region.

Birch Yule Log decoration

Today the great log has been replaced by a much, much smaller one. Often it is a decoration for the table.

In the photo to the right, a log is decorated with candles and greenery.

It is also a very popular pastry. This edible version is typically a delicious cake roll smothered in coffee or chocolate-flavored icing. It’s then decorated to look like a log and topped off with sugared holly leaves and roses.

Find out how you can discover the origin of other fun Christmas traditions below…

Just click here and in addition to 15 Olde-Time Christmas stories, you can can get more traditions plus recipes, olde-time crafts and lots of fun and games for the whole family.

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