La Bûche de Noël is a dish with a fascinating history. It is a cake made to look like a Christmas yule log. There is some debate as to where the word “yule” originates from. One significant theory is that the word comes from Old Norse’s hjól, meaning wheel. This wheel represents the circle of life. Early Norse pagans placed importance on the circle of life. Norse refers to the word Yule as a winter solstice celebration (Lady Spring Wolf, 2009).
The start of the winter solstice celebrations was started by the Romans with Saturnalia, a feast in honor of the temple of the god Saturn. This started in 217 BC on December 17th. The celebration first started as one day and then gradually turned into a week. Roman’s upper class also celebrated the birthday of Mithra around this time. Mithra was a god born of a rock and her birthday was December 25th. The Norse also play a role in winter solstice celebrations, or Yule. The first Yule feast was mentioned in 840. Yule was celebrated from December 21st to January in Scandinavia by the Norse. They are celebrating the Wheel of The Year (Lady Spring Wolf, 2009).
Pagans still celebrate Yule as a 12-day holiday. This is where the 12 days of Christmas comes from. It begins on December 21st, “Mothers Night,” and ends January 1st, “Yule Night.” Celtic pagans celebrate the sun god, Lugh, being reborn in human form and reuniting with his wife. Welsh pagans celebrate the Oak King and Holly King battling for power. Both pagans also celebrate surviving winter months and the return of sun during Yule (Lady Spring Wolf, 2009). The Yule log is first referenced around the 17th century. Norse pagan fathers and sons would bring large logs to the center of their town to start on fire. The town would feast until the logs burned out. This typically lasted 12 days (Lady Spring Wolf, 2009).
Christianity adopted many traditions from pagans, specifically from the Roman Empire winter solstice traditions, known as Yule to some. The exact reasoning for Christians naming December 25th as Jesus’ birthday, Christmas, is unclear. One reason for it being this day is explained by a holiday in the Roman Empire which celebrates the return of the sun. It means that winter is ending and spring and the sun are coming back. This holiday is celebrated as the winter solstice. This symbolization of the rebirth of the sun is used to symbolize the birth of the son, Jesus Christ, to Christians (Hillerbrand, 2019). Christianity adopted many traditions from pagan ways and repurposed them to revolve around the birth of Jesus, Christmas (Tifford, 2016).
In medieval times in France, after pagan Yule traditions were adopted by Christianity to celebrate Christmas, people would bring a log into their homes and put it in their hearth. They would light this log on fire on Christmas Eve and keep it lit for three days to ensure good luck. The ash from this log supposedly provided lightning protection and the coals were used for medicinal potions. Once hearths were no longer a common household piece, people put out decorative logs instead. They did this in remembrance of the Christmas yule logs that the hearths once held. Those decorative logs then turned into cakes that people could eat. In present time, families from France traditionally make this dessert together at Christmas time (Rose, 2018).
Individual well-being, religious freedom, social justice, and environmental justice are all shown in the history of La Bûche de Noël. There are both positives and negatives to each of these factors that go along with this dish. This section will focus on the positive sides of these factors while later on some negative viewpoints will be pointed out in the “Indigestion” section.
A person’s individual well-being is affected by La Bûche de Noël and its history in more than one way. In the past, the winter solstice celebrations impacted individual well-being due to it being a time to celebrate and refresh. The winter months were hard and surviving them was something to celebrate. The return of the sun gave people hope and happiness. This stems towards many people’s feelings of Christmas time as well. The Christmas season also allows people to celebrate and enjoy time with loved ones. This can be especially refreshing on an individual’s well-being. In France in particular, the tradition of making La Bûche de Noël with family could also provide comfort and joy to rejuvenate one’s own well-being.
Religious freedom is shown throughout La Bûche de Noël’s history. This yule log shaped cake for Christmas would not be possible without the pagan Yule traditions. Yule started off as not even a Christmas tradition at all. This shows how traditions can be adopted by different religions. Although La Bûche de Noël is typically made in celebration of Christmas, a Christianity holiday, it could also be made to celebrate the pagan Yule celebration as well.
Social justice is transformed throughout the history of La Bûche de Noël by creating more reasons than one for it to be made which allows more people to be able to make it. La Bûche de Noël can be made to celebrate Yule, Christmas, or winter solstice celebrations. These holidays could mean about the same thing to some people. This dish’s history involves different religions and traditions so there isn’t just one group who has a claim to it. The history of it is accepting to Christians as well as pagans.
Environmental justice is shown in La Bûche de Noël’s history by the transformation of actual Yule logs to cakes. In history, actual logs used to get chopped down and became part of a tradition for Yule and for Christmas. Since the advancements in technology and homes we no longer need to light logs to keep warm or often times do not have a place to light logs on fire. Logs were instead used as decoration. This was eventually transformed into cakes which is where La Bûche de Noël came from.
La Bûche de Noël has now become a Christmas tradition in France with its name literally meaning “a Christmas log.” However, this dish did not originally come from Christianity. This rich dessert comes with a rich history.
I am extremely into desserts and chocolate, so the dish, La Bûche de Noël, was right up my alley. It looked like something I would enjoy eating which is why I picked this dish in the first place. I also enjoy baking more than cooking. So there was another plus about this dish for me. La Bûche de Noël was a relatively new dish to me. I had never heard of it before, however, my mom did make a dessert for Christmas one year that I remember being pretty similar to it. There is a possibility that she had called it a “Yule Log” but my brother and I referred to it as “Elf Poop” which is all that I can really recall about it. After making and eating La Bûche de Noël I realized that it was very similar other desserts that I normally eat. It looked and tasted like a very rich Hostess Swiss Cake Roll. The process of making it was much more extensive than other desserts that I make though. I found it very interesting that this dish has pagan roots and began from winter solstice celebrations. It was later adopted to Christianity and made for Christmas time. I can definitely see why people would only make this at Christmas time. It is time consuming to make and so it seems fitting to only be made at for a special occasion. It has become a Christmas tradition for some family and so it serves as a reminder to people of the birth of Jesus Christ. It could be viewed as like a birthday cake for Jesus! When my family and I ate this dessert, we prayed before eating the meal that came before it, just as we do with all other meals that we eat. Religion can be found in all sorts of food and food processes and in many different ways for different groups of people.