The sensible choice was to stay inside at this time of year, safe from the darkness and the horrors it held. To help keep the darkness at bay, on or around the 21 December, the time of the winter solstice, fathers and sons would go out into the forests and bring back to hearth and home the largest log they could find. This massive piece of timber was then put on the fire and left to burn for the entirety of the season of Yule – twelve days altogether.
However, despite the deeply-felt need to keep the darkness outside, in Scandinavia people believed that the burning Yule log also warmed the frozen shades of the family’s dearly-departed, who returned to the ancestral home every Christmas Eve. Some families even went to the trouble of laying a place for them at the dinner table.
The Yule log was once associated with the Norse god Thor, who had a mysterious connection to oak trees.