Christmas Focus | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Christmas Focus

The Yule Log


The tradition of burning the Yule Log was there even before medieval times. It was originally a Nordic tradition. Yule is the name of the old Winter Soltice Festivals in Scandinavia and other north European countries such as Germany.The original Yule log was an entire tree, which was carefully chosen and brought into the house with much ceremony. The large end of the log would be placed on the hearth while the rest of the log would be on the floor of the room.

On Christmas Eve, the remains of the previous year’s log would be used to light the new Yule log. It was held important that the Yule log be lit by a ‘good person’ or in other words ‘a person with clean hands’. In Provence in France, it is traditional for the whole family to help cut the log down and that a little bit is burnt each night. If any of the log is left after Twelfth Night, it is kept safe in the home until the next Christmas to protect the home from the ill effects of lightning. In some parts of Holland, this was also done but the log had to be kept under a bed. In some Eastern European countries, it is on the morning of Christmas Eve that the Yule Log is ceremoniously cut, brought home and lit that evening.

In Cornwall (in the UK), the log is known as ‘The Mock.’ The log is dried out and the bark removed before it is brought to the house. In the United Kingdom (UK) Coopers or barrel makers give old, unusable barrels to their customers to be used as Yule logs.

With time, the custom of lighting the Yule Log spread all over Europe. Oak is the traditional wood used in England while in Scotland it is the birch. The traditional wood used in France is cherry and the log is sprinkled with wine so that it will smell nice while burning.

Christmas Crackers

Christmas Crackers (bon bons) were first created sometime between 1845 and 1850 by Tom Smith, a sweet maker in London. On a visit to Paris he saw the French bon bons which were almonds wrapped in pretty paper. Once he was back in London Smith made sweets like bon bons and put a motto or riddle inside them but they did not sell well.

One night as Tom Smith was warming himself by a log fire in his home he was attracted by the cracks and the sparks of the fire. He suddenly thought it would be nice if his sweets and toys could be opened with a cracking noise (when the wrappers were being pulled apart) it would be very nice. So, the Christmas Crackers came to be. They were also called Cosaques and it was believed that Crackers were given this name after the Cossack Soldiers who fired guns into the air while riding their horses.

On his death Tom’s three sons William, Walter and Harry started running the business and Walter introduced hats into Crackers. Today, Crackers are an essential part of Christmas and New Year celebrations and come in various ways including themed crackers.


The bright red Poinsettia is a native of Central America and is named after a US Ambassador to Mexico, Robert Poinsett who grew and popularised the flower in America.

Poinsettia is very much a Christmas tradition the world over and there is a touching Mexican legend which links this bright red flower to Christmas.

Pepita was a poor, young Mexican girl who was very sad as she did not have a gift to give Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve at the service in her church. Her cousin Pedro tried to comfort Pepita and said, “I am sure that even the smallest gift given to him by someone who loves him will make Jesus happy”. Pepita was still very sad as she walked towards the church on Christmas Eve empty handed. She could not think what to do. Then she saw some weeds growing by the wayside and plucked some and made them into a small bouquet. She felt very embarrassed about her little gift as she walked to the altar to lay her gift at the crib for baby Jesus but suddenly remembered Pedro’s words and felt better. She went to the altar, knelt and laid her bouquet at the crib. As she did so the weeds burst into bright red flowers and all who saw it said it was a miracle. From that day the poinsettia was called the ‘Flores de Noche Buena’ ‘Flowers of the Holy Night’. It is said that the shape of the poinsettia flowers and leaves symbolize the Star of David which led the Wise men to baby Jesus. The red colour of the flower is said to symbolise the blood of Jesus and the white leaves his purity.


Candy Canes

The Christmas Candy Cane originated in Germany about 250 years ago. They started as straight white sugar sticks.

The story says that a choirmaster, in 1670, was worried about children sitting quietly all through the long Christmas nativity service. He gave them something to eat to keep them quiet! As he wanted to remind them of Christmas, he made them into a ‘J’ shape like a shepherd's crook, to remind them of the shepherds that visited the baby Jesus at the first Christmas. However, the earliest records of ‘Candy Canes’ comes from over 200 years later, so the story, although rather nice, probably isn't true!

Sometime around 1,900 the red stripes were added and they were flavoured with peppermint or wintergreen.

Sometimes other Christian meanings are giving to the parts of the canes. The ‘J’ can also mean Jesus. The white of the cane can represent the purity of Jesus Christ and the red stripes are for the blood he shed when he died on the cross. The peppermint flavour can represent the hyssop plant that was used for purifying in the Bible.

Around 1920, Bob McCormack, from Georgia, USA, started making canes for his friends and family. In 2005, Bob's Candies was bought by Farley and Sathers but they still make candy canes!

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