Most of us are familiar with the rolled sponge cakes in the shape of a log, but not many know why we have a tradition of eating a dessert made to look like firewood at Christmas.
The custom of Yule logs goes back to the Iron Age of pre-Christian northern Europe, including Germany, Britain, and Scandinavia. Yule was and is the celebration marking the Winter Solstice which is the longest night of the year. It signals that the days will now begin to grow longer and that spring is coming. For our ancestors who didn’t have central heating or electricity, the turning point of the return of the sun was a huge deal.
You can read more about the history of Yule traditions and on my guide to the best Yule gifts for pagans and Wiccans.
The Yule log specifically was a large piece of wood (or in some regions, an entire small tree) that was brought into the home and burned throughout the longest night. Like most Yule traditions, it served to call back the sun and mark the rebirth of the light. Yule logs were decorated with pine cones and blessed with wine. The current year’s Yule log was always lit from a small piece of last year’s Yule log that had been carefully stored in the home to protect it from fire and lightning. It was unlucky for the Yule log to be re-lit or for the fire to go out before the allotted time, so it had to be carefully tended.
Like other Yule traditions, when our ancestors converted to Christianity, they brought their folk customs with them. As time and technology progressed, it became impractical to burn huge logs on Christmas Eve. Sometime in the 1600’s, someone was clever enough to come up with the idea of a Yule log cake, because if their fancy new wood stove ovens were too small to fit a traditional Yule log, they could at least bake a cake in the shape of a log. Yule log cakes are often frosted with chocolate ganache, and decorated with edible fake holly leaves, mushrooms, pine cones, and anything else to make it look like real log. If you’re not a huge baker, pre-made Yule Cakes are always available as well.
The tradition of the Yule log can be found today in our customs of Yule log cakes, Christmas candles, and in modern Yule logs that are generally either a decorated piece of firewood or a log that has been turned into a candle holder which is what I have in my home right now.
For more Yule and Christmas decorations ideas, read my guides to the best mistletoe kissing balls, reindeer decorations, outdoor reindeer decorations, tabletop Christmas trees, Christmas window decorations, and Christmas mailbox decorations.
We’ve been celebrating midwinter with some form of Yule logs for thousands of years. Honor this longstanding tradition by bringing it into your home.
May the log burn, may the wheel turn, may the sun return.
1. Nordic Ware Yule Log Pan
Love the idea of making a Yule log for your family but hate the idea of having to deal with a jellyroll-type cake? You are so not alone. This Yule Log Pan by Nordic Ware creates a log shaped cake complete with branches, swirls, and holly leaves and berries–all as easy as baking a regular cake. What’s left is the fun part of frosting and decorating it. The cast aluminium pan was made in America and has a slick, nonstick coating to ensure your cake won’t stick to the pan. You just want to be aware that highly detailed molds like this require denser cakes. A boxed cake mix won’t hold up to this. Instead look for recipes for bundt cakes and you’ll be golden. Nordic Ware also makes other really neat intricate holiday cakes molds including a gingerbread house, toy train set, and pine forest bundt cake pan.
Price: $24.99 (22 percent off MSRP)
2. Old World Christmas Yule Log Blown Glass Ornament
Made of mouth-blown glass, this Yule Log Ornament gives a traditional look to an old tradition. The ornament is shaped like a birch log and is decorated with pine cones, sprigs of holly, and gold and red ribbons. Each ornament is hand-painted with bright colors and accented with glitter for a festive sparkle. Because this is made of glass, you’ll want to be extra careful and make sure you keep it out of your little ones’ reach.
Price: $10.13 (28 percent off MSRP)
3. Handmade Full Log Candle Holder
Similar to what I use every year for my Yule celebrations, this real tree branch holds four tea light candles, so you can light and relight your Yule log year after year even if you don’t have a fireplace. The branch is around 14 inches long and 2.5 to four inches in diameter and is sealed to protect it from water and everyday wear. Every branch is handmade to order so it will take a couple of days to create before it ships, but will still make it to you in time for Christmas. Man Made Wood only uses fallen trees so they re-purpose dead logs rather than cutting down trees for profit. A Birch Branch Candle Holder and custom sizes are available as well. The tea light candles aren’t included but you can get packs of tea lights for pretty cheap or you can pick up a pack of fake tea light candles that light up without real flames.
4. Handmade Yule Log Cake Christmas Ornament
Love the tradition of Yule log cakes but don’t want to make one? You can get an ornament in the shape of a Yule log cake. This three inch long ornament is handmade to order out of polymer clay. It’s highly detailed with rich dark ganache texture, fluffy frosting swirls, holly springs, and even a dusting of fake powdered sugar. To be clear, it may look yummy but it’s only clay so no snacking on the ornaments. Since it’s handmade to order, it might take a couple of days to ship, but it will arrive before Christmas.
5. Christmas Yule Log Set
Yule logs are an important part of Christmas traditions in France where they are called bûche de Noël. This French kit comes with two Yule log shaped cake plates, a Yule Log mold, two piping bags with metal ripple pattern piping tip, and little non-edible Christmas cake decorations like a Santa Claus, cozy cottage, and pine tree. This would be perfect for creating a French Yule log ice cream cake as the plastic mold would release the cake much more easily than a metal mold pan would.
6. Dream Essence Designs Yule Log Mug
Drink your Yuletide hot cocoa or coffee in this Yule Log Mug by Dream Essence. The ceramic mug is microwave safe, lead free, and FDA approved. A warm, cozy image of a Yule log is printed on both sides of the mug. The Yule log is decorated with holly sprigs, evergreen branches, and festive ribbons. It’s surrounded by traditional Christmas balls and lit candles. This is a great mug to snuggle in by the fire with. To protect the images, it’s recommended that you hand-wash this mug.
7. Wee Forest Folk Yule Log Figurine
Wee Forest Folk has been handcrafting collectible and adorable mouse figurines since 1972. I can’t handle how cute this little guy is as he carries home a Yule log for his family. Made in Massachusetts, each Wee Forest Folk mouse is hand-sculpted in clay and then cast in a much more durable stone material. This Yule log mouse was sculpted by Annette Peterson, the woman who founded Wee Forest Folk in the 70’s. Each figurine is hand-painted so every single one will be just a little different and unique in the world. This precious little rodent’s rosy cheeks, striped hat, and fuzzy earmuffs are enough to make me want to start a collection.
8. 3dRose Yule Log Pillow Case
Looking for a new way to display your Yule spirit? This pillow sham has a beautifully printed image of a Yule log shining its light into the darkness of a cold, snowy night. The Yule log is decorated with evergreens and three candles and the pillow sports the words “Blessed Yule” along the bottom. It’s made of soft satin material and is machine washable in cold water. This is only the sham so if you don’t already have a 16 inch by 16 inch pillow insert, you can pick one up for under $10.
9. Department 56 ‘Bringing Home The Yule Log’
If you or a loved one collect Department 56’s holiday miniature villages, put some Yuletide cheer into your village with this set of three figurines. “Bringing Home The Yule Log” was introduced as part of the Dickens Village Collection in 1991 and retired in 1998, so this set is 19 years old at the very youngest. They are made of porcelain and hand-painted for charming detail. The figures are two inches tall and will fit in with all your Department 56 figurines.
Price: From $18.99
10. ZippyPaws Holiday Chipmunk Burrow Yule Log
For a softer Yule log ornament check out this cute plush Yule log complete with a festive sprig of holly and three chipmunks wearing Santa hats. Okay, yes, it’s a dog toy, but look how cute it is. It would be adorable sitting under a holiday tree or on the mantle. Also, if you are a dog owner like I am or are buying presents for dog owners, this would be an great Christmas or Yule gift. It’s a puzzle toy, so you can hide the little chipmunks inside the log and it’s up to your pup to dig them back out. However you decide to use it, this is adorable and a Yule log you can cuddle.