Yule Logs are not just log shaped chocolate cake eaten at Christmas – in the past it was traditional to light a Yule Log on Christmas Eve and keep it burning through the 12 nights of Christmas until Twelfth Night. The Celts believed that, for 12 days at the end of December, the sun stood still (which is why the days grew shorter and shorter). If they could keep yule logs burning bright for those twelve days, then the sun would be persuaded to move again, and make the days grow longer. If a Yule Log went out, then it forbode bad luck. For Christians, the symbolism of the Yule log was that it represented the need to keep the stable warm for the Infant Christ.
Traditionally, a huge log would be selected in the forest on Christmas Eve, decorated with ribbons, and dragged back to the home. This was known as 'Bringing in the Yule Log'. The magical properties of the Yule Log were said to ensure good fortune in the coming year to all those who lent a hand at pulling it over the rough ground. Once it was brought to the fireplace, a blessing was said over the log and wine was poured over it as a libation. It was then placed on the fire and lit with a torch made from a piece of wood left over from last year's Yule Log.
The Yule Log is called the Ashen Faggot in the West Country. The ancient custom was that a faggot (a bundle of ash sticks) was burnt on Christmas Eve. The Christianised version of the use of ash was that it was the wood that Mary used to light the fire in order to wash Jesus. In Romany lore it was thought that Jesus was born in a field and that he was kept warm by the heat of an ash fire.
Not everyone has a fireplace these days and in the USA you can play a dvd of a Yule Log burning in a real fireplace. This trend started in 1966 when Fred Thrower, a former TV programming director for WPIX in New York City, wanted to offer a Yule Log for the majority in New York City who had no real fireplace of their own.
Either way there is nothing like sitting in front of a fire at Christmas sipping wine and cracking nuts. One of my favourites is Chateau Toumalin (£9.49) – a shining, ruby red wine with flavours of blackcurrant, blueberry and a hint of roasted wood. It's a fine, strong, silky and ageable wine that you can pair with game birds, wild boar and venison as well as – vegetarian dishes based on aubergines, peppers and cheeses.