The traditional Yule log predates Christianity in Europe, and has symbolism that extends across all faiths, according to a presentation made by Shea Skinner at the Butternut Gallery in Montrose.
Skinner, a student at Elk Lake High School, has been coordinating a Yule log program and fundraiser for the Susquehanna County Library building fund for three years, as part of his senior graduation project.
According to Skinner, families would choose the log with the smoothest, lightest bark, and it would be displayed for the season. The log was burned with the family’s collective sins, trespasses or negative experiences symbolically applied to it, and the ashes were used as fertilizer for the next year’s crops.
“It is a symbol of renewal and reconciliation,” she said. The logs are traditionally signed by guests, and are burned on Christmas Eve, Christmas, or New Years Eve.
At the kick-off event, Skinner spoke on the Yule log’s assimilation into Christianity under Pope Julius I. He told how the tradition came to the New World colonies with the settlers, and that in the Southern states, slaves would be freed from work during the time the Yule log burned.
“The choice of a Yule log was left to a slave, so they would pick the freshest, greenest wood so that it would burn slowly and give them a holiday,” Skinner said.
Skinner uses white birch logs, and decorates them with ribbons and natural greenery, like ground pine, orincess pine, holly, milkweed, acorn caps, teasel and winterberry. Since Shea’s father, Jerry Skinner, is the naturalist at Woodbourne Wildlife Sanctuary, he is able to collect most of the materials locally.
Francis Cope, who donated land for Woodbourne Forest, is on the list of benefactors to the project. Brenna and Bill Aileo match the funds raised by the sale to benefit the new library building.
Tom Canouse and Betty Bryden help with the decoration of the logs, and with drilling holes for candles in some.
Shea’s mother, Julanne Skinner, and his sister Haley also help decorate the Yule logs.
The logs are available for purchase at the Butternut Gallery and Second Story Books, 204 Church St., Montrose. The cost is $15, with an additional $5 for a log with candles.