Christmas traditions are old and new, just like the Yule log and how that tradition has changed. In the Appalachian Mountains, though, people still celebrate as generations past with the actual burning of the Yule log, games, contests and caroling.
The Yule log was used in medieval times during the Christmas season in European homes. Originally, an entire tree was cut down on Christmas Eve and was brought into the home. The largest end would go into the hearth and the rest of the tree would hang out into the room. The log would slowly be fed into the fire to burn for the 12 days of Christmas.
The Yule log was traditionally thought to determine good or bad luck for the next year. In one superstition, if the log failed to catch fire on the first attempt, it meant bad luck for the entire household for the next year. A second superstition is that the remains of the Yule log need to be stored till the following year. This piece or ashes are used to light the Yule log the next year to carry good luck from one generation to the next.
Yule logs are made of various types of wood. In England they use oak, in Scotland they use birch, and in France they use cherry. Residents of France sprinkle wine on their log to enhance the smell of it burning.
Today, most homes do not have a fireplace. The traditional Yule log has been replaced with a chocolate or gingerbread sponge-like cake, iced to represent a log.
Poinsettias were used during the 13th and 14th centuries to decorate churches during the Christmas season. The poinsettia blooms from October through December, making it an excellent Christmas flower.
The poinsettia, though, is actually a plant rather than a flower. They come from Mexico and Guatemala and can grow up to 15 feet tall in their native land.
Poinsettias were brought to North America by botanist Joel Roberts Poinsett, who was a U.S. ambassador to Mexico. Paul Ecke brought traditional red and green poinsettias to Mass. The Ecke Company continues to produce poinsettias to sell today.
The poinsettia is a Christmas tradition inspired by a Mexican folklore. The tale tells of a poor girl named Pepita, who had no present to bring to the baby Jesus. Her cousin, Pedro, wanting to cheer her up, told her that no gift was too small. On the way to church, Pepita picked some weeds as her gift. As Pepita stepped up to the altar, the weeds became beautiful red flowers.
Symbolically, poinsettias are shaped like stars, like the star that led the wise men to Jesus. Many people believe that the red leaves represent the blood of Jesus. The flower in Spanish is known as “Flower of the Holy Night”.
Sources for this story included WhyChritmas, historyjunkie.com, floraqueen.com.
Jackie Wolgamott is a stringer for The Times-Gazette.