In European and Scandinavian countries, the word Yule broadly refers to the midwinter period rather than any one single day.
Just what is Yuletide? And how is it so intimately associated with Christmas? Pagan origins of Yuletide Yuletide is believed to have been a pre-Christian (pagan) harvest festival that was observed by the historical Germanic people sometime in November.
It was originally celebrated from late December to early January and the date of this festival would be determined by the lunar Germanic calendar.
It was only when the Christian calendar (Julian calendar) was adopted that the date shifted to December 25.
According to one theory, the word for Yule originated from the aboriginal Scandinavian culture, and has always meant only one thing: the Winter Solstice festival.
In fact, the true origins of Yule lie in the long and harsh winters that most of the northern cultures faced.
As a result, several of the ancient traditions concerning Yuletide centred around the simple but daunting task of coping with the long hours of darkness and the evils it was thought to hide, and helping the return of the life-giving sun's light and warmth.
Yuletide during the Middle Ages During the Middle Ages, people used to plan their Yule Log months in advance.
The Yule Log, or the Christmas Log, finds mention in medieval folklore in many parts of England, particularly in the North and the West Country.
A large log - usually an oak - would be chosen and preserved through the summer months.
It would then be dragged inside the house and laid on the hearth on Christmas Eve.
Some little ceremony always accompanied this action which was followed by the actual lighting of the log, usually with kindling left over from the previous year's log.
he log was burnt each night, right up to Epiphany, the Twelfth Night after Christmas), believing it to symbolize the Light of God which was vanquishing the darkness in the world.
A strong superstition in those days was that it was extremely unlucky if the log fire was allowed to die out on Christmas Day.
So strongly has this practice been entrenched in the psyche of the people that Yule Log traditions continue to be followed in European and Scandinavian cultures even today.
In many homes, it is the youngest child who is accorded the honour of carrying this special log into the house.
Apart from its significance on Christmas Eve, the Yule Log also imparted a cheery feeling into the atmosphere - something to do with the warmth of a fire blazing cozily in the house even as a bitter cold wind blew outside.
In many European and Scandinavian countries, Christmas is incomplete without burning a Yule Log in the house.
The tradition of the Yule Log, like many other Christmas rituals like the Christmas tree and mistletoe, dates to the pre-Christian era.
It was only during the 11th century in England, that the word 'Christmas' replaced Yule.
Yule Log cakes Today, although Yule logs are no longer burnt in every home, the traditional Yule log has now has a 'sweet' replacement - the Yule log cake! Yule log cakes are traditionally eaten from Christmas Eve and are supposed to last till Epiphany, although most never make it beyond Christmas Day!