One particular Christmas legend is literally a dying ember: the burning of the Yule log. Many Americans now have gas logs or no fireplace at all in which to burn the traditional massive log. Perhaps that’s best, as the strict set of guidelines—designed to ward off disaster during the coming year—for properly burning a Yule log boggle the mind.
First, logs—often a stump or root—had to be found on one’s property, or a neighbors’. It was considered unlucky to buy the log! Next, the log must be lit. Not with a match or bit of kindling. No, people used a small portion of the previous year’s log, hidden under the homeowner’s bed and safeguarded through the year for a couple of reasons: 1) to protect the home against fire and lighting during the year; and 2) to light the new Yule log. The person who lit the Yule log carried a weighty responsibility. He (or she) must have cleans hands—dirty hands signify disrespect. And the log had to catch fire on the first lighting attempt. If it did not, misfortune would surely follow that family for the upcoming year.
Once the log had successfully been lit (and the owner calmed with a bit of brandy or eggnog), the Yule had to burn continuously for twelve hours. During that time, the family drank cider and shared ghostly tales and stories of the olden days.
I like an evening by the fire as much—if not more—than the next mom, but I can definitely do without the ritual and pressure!