Saturday, December 24, 2011 | By: Brianna

We Need a Little Christmas

Yesterday I went to my friend Molly's house to help her make a buche de Noel.  Which for those of you (like me) who didn't know, is a Yule Log.  And when I say "help," I mean that in the loosest sense of the word because I did a lot of quality control.  And chocolate chip eating.  Though I did separate eggs.  Which was pretty cool.

Anyway, while making this baked magical goodness, the question of "why a log?" came to me.  So I'm going to attempt to explain three Christmas traditions before Googling them all and bringing back what I learn off the Internet.  Fun, right?  Heeeeere we go!

1. The Yule Log
A Yule Log is a delicious rolled up sponge cake frosted to look like a log.  It's usually decorated with sprigs of holly or pine needles and sometimes powdered sugar snow.  Part of the challenge of making a Yule Log is to make it look as realistic as possible.  You can even add mushrooms made out of meringue, but we didn't do that because it took too much effort and time.

Now, why a log?  Well.  In the olden days in Europe, there was a time when everything was scarce.  Food, water, sugar...dirt... The only thing that was plentiful was wood from the nearby forests.  So every year during Christmastime, families would go out into the forest and cut down a small bit of wood off a tree and bring it home.  There they had the option of either roasting it up and slicing it for a dessert after their scant dinner, or they could roll the log into the fireplace and have a single evening of warmth for the holiday.  Nowadays since everything is significantly more plentiful and heaters have been invented, the people of Europe remember their difficult times and make a Yule Log in remembrance of their predecessors' struggles during a time of need.  Plus cake is much tastier than tree.

Wikipedia informs me that the original Yule Log was part of an ancient fire festival to celebrate the winter solstice.  It also says that in some countries an entire tree was cut down to provide maximum warmth and endurance and that the thickest part of the tree was put into the fire first while the rest of the tree hung out into the house.  The connection between Yule Log and cake is unclear, just that the cake exists and it's meant to look like the log ready for fire.

2. Mistletoe
Well.  Mistletoe, if you didn't know, is poisonous.  So they actually hung mistletoe from the ceiling to prevent the nargles (J.K. Rowling knows...) from infesting Christmas parties around the world.  Unfortunately, those who knew about the poisonous properties of mistletoe were unaware that mistletoe actually attracted nargles. This meant that there were little buzzing creatures hanging out in households of ordinary and magical people alike.  The plant was hung in doorways to discourage nargles from entering the house, but when the host was seeing their guests off after the party they would kiss each person in turn.  It was then discovered that when kissing beneath the mistletoe, the nargles were lulled into a state of calm which ceased the buzzing.

Not only is mistletoe poisonous, but I've also learned (from Wikipedia) that some forms of it are parasitic.  Excuse me, they're "hemi-parasites" though they have some medicinal qualities.  Further, I had to look up kissing traditions to figure out why kissing under the mistletoe was a big deal.  References to kissing under the mistletoe didn't occur until the 18th century, and that was explaining that young men had the privilege of kissing a young lady if he met her under the mistletoe.  He would then pluck one of the berries from the sprig, and once all the berries were gone, that privilege ceased.  Otherwise it would be bad luck.  Although there's also a theory that the tradition hails from Norse mythology.

3. Reindeer
Reindeer are a thing because they live near the northern parts of the world.  So naturally when the legend-writers were looking for a steed for His Jollyness, the reindeer was the obvious choice.  A tribunal of reindeer has gathered every year since that time in an attempt to find a different steed for Santa Claus or at least to increase the rights of reindeer workers at the North Pole (they don't have the same rights as elves or anything).  Dasher and Dancer acknowledge the image of a flying reindeer is important to the winter holiday, but Comet maintains that they should just go underground and forget about the whole flying thing.  The fairies who provide the fairy dust and happy thoughts for the reindeer to use while flying agree that their resources are dwindling in this tough economy and that reindeer should be allowed a break too.

According to Wikipedia, the reindeer thing came from the poem "The Night Before Christmas," and we're all familiar with that.

"It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air."
- W.T. Ellis


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