The Yule log is a traditional part of Christmas celebrations in the United States and around the world. Though it's more popular in England than in the United States, for most people, the holidays wouldn't be complete without a blazing fire---even if they don't know the history of the Yule log.
The Yule log first emerged as part of Christmas celebrations in Germany late in the 12th century, about 400 years before Christmas trees and Santa Claus, making it one of the most ancient Christmas traditions. Traditionally, the Yule log is burned in the fireplace on Christmas Eve. By the early 1600s, burning the Yule log was an important part of holiday celebrations in England.
Though any wood can be used as a Yule log, the classic trees chopped for Yuletide burning are oak and ash. The log was originally a very large one --- designed to keep burning through the entire 12 days of Christmas --- but grew smaller over time.
A piece of the Yule log was always saved to light the next year's Yule log.
The Yule log marked the holiday season. During the time it burned, no unnecessary work was supposed to be done, and families were supposed to celebrate and make merry.
In many illustrations, Santa Claus is shown carrying a Yule log as one of the symbols of Christmas.
In pagan times, the Yule log was burned at the winter Solstice to symbolize warmth and light even in the dark of winter. Christians adopted the ritual and made it a part of their Christmas celebration.
Yule log is also the name of a traditional French dessert served at Christmas time. Called Buche de Noel in French, the desert is a cake iced with chocolate and shaped to look like a log.
The televised Yule log---literally, a video of a log burning in the fireplace---was first aired in the United States in 1966.