A nice article I found regarding the history of the Yule Log (easier than copying and re-writing, and I like the way this person writes, clear & simple.):
In Northern Europe, Winter festivities were once considered to be a Feast of the Dead, complete with ceremonies full of spirits, devils, and the haunting presence of the Norse god, Odin, and his night riders. One particularly durable Solstice festival was "Jol" (also known as "Jule" and pronounced "Yule"), a feast celebrated throughout Northern Europe and particularly in Scandinavia to honor Jolnir, another name for Odin. Since Odin was the god of intoxicating drink and ecstasy, as well as the god of death, Yule customs varied greatly from region to region. Odin's sacrificial beer became the specially blessed Christmas ale mentioned in medieval lore, and fresh food and drink were left on tables after Christmas feasts to feed the roaming Yuletide ghosts. Even the bonfires of former ancient times survived in the tradition of the Yule Log, perhaps the most universal of all Christmas symbols.
The origins of the Yule Log can be traced back to the Midwinter festivals in which the Norsemen indulged...nights filled with feasting, "drinking Yule" and watching the fire leap around the log burning in the home hearth. The ceremonies and beliefs associated with the Yule Log's sacred origins are closely linked to representations of health, fruitfulness and productivity. In England, the Yule was cut and dragged home by oxen or horses as the people walked alongside and sang merry songs. It was often decorated with evergreens and sometimes sprinkled with grain or cider before it was finally set alight.
In Yugoslavia, the Yule Log was cut just before dawn on Christmas Eve and carried into the house at twilight. The wood itself was decorated with flowers, colored silks and gold, and then doused with wine and an offering of grain. In an area of France known as Provencal, families would go together to cut the Yule Log, singing as they went along. These songs asked for blessings to be bestowed upon their crops and their flocks. The people of Provencal called their Yule Log the trefoire and, with great ceremony, carried the log around the house three times and christened it with wine before it was set ablaze.
To all European races, the Yule Log was believed to bring beneficial magic and was kept burning for at least twelve hours and sometimes as long as twelve days, warming both the house and those who resided within. When the fire of the Yule Log was finally quenched, a small fragment of the wood would be saved and used to light the next year's log. It was also believed that as long as the Yule Log burned, the house would be protected from witchcraft. The ashes that remained from the sacred Yule Log were scattered over fields to bring fertility, or cast into wells to purify and sweeten the water. Sometimes, the ashes were used in the creation of various charms...to free cattle from vermin, for example, or to ward off hailstorms.
Some sources state that the origin of Yule is associated with an ancient Scandinavian fertility god and that the large, single Log is representative of a phallic idol. Tradition states that this Log was required to burn for twelve days and a different sacrifice to the fertility god had to be offered in the fire on each of those twelve days.
(The History of Christmas)
I figured I'd share this simple explanation of the Yule Log and then share the one I made this year. In 2011 we lived in KY and there was this incredibly beautiful 75 year old Holly tree in the high pasture. There was large branch that had fallen and the leaves had finally died off of it. I found a good sized piece of this branch and saved it for my Yule log. It is this piece that I have decorated again this year. I have to say, it looks far better than that first one! LOL
Here are the materials I gathered:
Holly Yule log
1/4" thick Plywood
Juniper & Cedar branches
Small Pine cones
Red & Green satin string
Curly branches from a Harry Lauder Walking Stick tree (I'd saved them from our tree in KY)
Red, White, Blue, & Silver glitter
Red & White candles
Hot glue gun & sticks
I attached the Yule log to the plywood, having discovered the last time I decorated the Yule log that it wasn't very stable, and would tip easily.
I first placed the curly branches around the log and attached with the hot glue. I really hate hot glue for permanent projects, but for something that I want to disassemble and re-decorate year after year, it's perfect.
Next, I placed the Juniper & Cedar branches (which I'd acquired from a few of the trees in our windbreak, and gave "thanks" for their sharing for this project), hot gluing them in place as well.
Then I placed the pine cones in the branches, and the candles on the log. Around the base of the candles I hot glued some of the red & green satin string (OMG that sucked! The wax was melting and the hot glue & wax together were sticking to my fingers! Note to self: Need to find a better way to do that next time! LOL)
I used the spray adhesive very lightly in places and then sprinkled a tiny bit of glitter on the branches, log, candles, and a bit more heavily, around the candle bases. I'm not for "glittery" things, (and don't get me started on "bling"! ugh), but considering that I didn't have any trees or plants on the property that have red berries on them, I felt the whole design needed a touch of color somewhere besides just the candles.
Lastly, I placed a few of the white feathers. And that was the last of it. Until one of the dogs decided to eat one end of the design and I had to re-do that portion. :( Oh well, no one but me (and hubby) knows, and it still looks great, so no biggie.
As I worked on this project I prayed thanks to the trees that shared of themselves to contribute to the beauty of the piece and I thanked Spirit for the gift of inspiration and the ability to create something of beauty to share with others.
Here is this year's Yule Log & Christmas Dinner Centerpiece: