Christmas Eve and The Yule Clog


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It’s Christmas Eve and in the spirit of the season we are highlighting topical and festive books from our library – today we feature an excerpt from a book published in 1849 called Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain by John Brand – here we learn about the tradition of the Yule Clog or Log during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Christmas Eve and The Yule Clog

Christmas Day, in the primitive church, was always observed as the Sabbath-day, and like that preceded by an eve, or vigil.  Hence our present Christmas Eve.

On the night of this eve our ancestors were wont to light up candles of an uncommon size, called Christmas Candles, and lay a log of wood upon the fire, called a Yule-Clog or Christmas-block, to illuminate the house, and, as it were, to turn night into day.  This custom is, in some measure, still kept up in the North of England.

In the buttery of St. John’s College, Oxford, an ancient candle-socket of stone still remains ornamented with the figure of the Holy Lamb. It was formerly used to burn the Christmas Candle in, on the high table at supper, during the twelve nights of that festival.  This candle is thus alluded to in a very rare tract, called the Country Farmer’s Catechism, [1703]:

“She ne’er has no fits, nor uses no cold tea, as the Ladies Catechism saves, but keeps her body in health with working all the week, and goes to church on Sundays: my daughter don’t look with sickly pale looks, like an unlit Christmas Candle; they don’t eat oatmeal, lime, or ashes, for pain at their stomachs.

There is an old Scotch proverb:

“He’ s as bare as the birk at Yule E’en,”

which, perhaps, alludes to the Yule-log; the birk meaning a block of the birch-tree, stripped of its bark and dried against Yule Even. It is spoken of one who is exceedingly poor. A clergyman of Devonshire informed me that the custom of burning the Christmas-block, i.e. the Yule-Clog, still continues in that county. In Poor Robin’s Almanack for [1677], in the beginning of December, he observes:

“Now blocks to cleave this time requires,
‘Gainst Christmas for to make good fires.”

Excerpt from Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain Volume 1 by John Brand – 1849


Further Reading and External Links

History of the Yule Log