Origins of Yule log tradition
The burning of a special log in a fireplace for luck and fortune has been a holiday tradition long before the arrival of Christianity in Europe. As are most holiday traditions, the origins of the Yule log are believed to have stemmed from Germanic or Scandinavian paganism. The tradition of burning the Yule log began as an early winter solstice ritual, though the exact date the tradition started has been lost to us. The earliest references to the Yule log tradition appear in 17th century German texts though it is widely believed to have been practiced for centuries prior.
Centuries later the Yule log was adopted by Christianity. The lighting of the Yule log was used to symbolize the birth of Jesus by some while others claimed it symbolized Jesus’s triumph over sin. Today the burning of the Yule log is seen more as a secular holiday tradition though it is still performed by those of Christian and pagan beliefs alike during the holidays.
Similar to a Swiss roll, the Yule log cake is made of a soft sponge cake and is believed to have originated in France around the 19th century and was known as Bûche de Noël. The cake is shaped, decorated and frosted to resemble the Yule log from the original tradition.
The cake usually consists of yellow sponge cake with chocolate buttercream in a spiral fashion, though many variants of the traditional recipe are used today. The frosting is often scraped to give it a bark-like texture to resemble the traditional Yule practice. While the edible treat originated in France, it quickly spread to other nations as the burning of the Yule log tradition began to lose public interest.
Both Traditions in Modern Day
Today, both Yule log traditions are still held, and families take part in either one or both traditions during the holidays. For families without a fireplace, modern technology has provided alternatives. The burning of the Yule log has been replaced in most homes by a TV broadcast or digital recording of a Yule log burning in a holiday themed fireplace. This modern tradition began in 1966 when the New York City television station, WPIX, aired a multiple hour long television showed titled "The Yule Log." This show was simply a recorded film loop of a Yule log burning in a fireplace while Christmas music played softly in the background.