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Yule logs and wheat

The following was written by J.T. Hull, editor of the Scoop Shovel, in December 1929.

The proper place to celebrate Christmas is on a farm because in its natural history, it began on the farm.

Let me explain. From about the fourth century of the Christian era, Christmas has been observed as the birthday of the Christ. But as a human holiday, it goes back into the darkness of antiquity.

It was celebrated thousands of years before the birth of Christ, and most of the customs associated with it, the decking of our houses, the giving of presents, the yule log, the mistletoe and the holly, the eating, drinking and merrymaking take us back to times where there were no cities, and the main business of men was the care of flocks and herds and the tilling of the earth.

Flocks and herds depended on herbage and crops; herbage and crops depended on the weather; and the weather was the warmth of the sun, the gentle rain, and the soothing wind.

Christmas originally was a weather feast and a harvest feast, in which men rejoiced in the elements which gave them warmth, food and clothing… so it is correct to say in a general way, that Christmas is the natural heritage of the men who till the land.

Do you want an illustration? Let us go over to the southeastern part of Europe, and look into a Serbian house. It is Christmas Eve and everybody is celebrating. They must have a nice log for the fire, a special log for this occasion. The young men go into the woods and select a suitable tree. Before cutting it, they christen it, so to speak, by throwing on it a handful of wheat. When it falls, it must fall toward the east, otherwise it is a bad omen. They bring the log to the house; the mother meets them at the door and again sprinkles wheat on the log. Christmas greetings are passed around; the log is laid on the fire with one end protruding and the household joins in prayer for a good harvest in the coming year — abundance of cream and honey and fruitful flocks. Very early in the morning — Christmas Day, there is a special Christmas visitor who must be the first outside of the family to cross the threshold inward.

The visitor has a woollen glove full of wheat. Before entering, he throws wheat through the open door. He sprinkles wheat on every member of the family and throws a little on the floor and into every corner of the room. His hostess reciprocates by throwing a little wheat on him. The visitor then goes over to the fire, takes a poker or shovel and strikes the burning log. As the sparks fly from the log, he says: “For as many sparks as come out of you, let there be as many oxen, horses, sheep, goats, pigs and beehives.”

Then he kneels and kisses the projecting part of the log, and the members of the family kiss each other over it.

Wheat, cattle, horses, pigs, logs — can you imagine prosperity centring on these things for city men? Certainly not, and yet go far enough back and you will come to the time when they were the only evidence of wealth, and when men in those times wished each other good luck and prosperity, they visualized it all in terms of the farm.

There you have, in survival, the beginning of the Christmas feast — in the worship of the sun, the clouds and the wind — gratitude for the good received, prayers for the continuation of it. And with it, the spirit of humanity.

Man cannot celebrate a feast alone; he must join with his fellows in a communion of joy and hope. That is the lesson which Christmas has carried through the ages, a lesson strengthened immeasurably by the addition of the magnificent message 2,000 years ago, “peace on earth, goodwill among men.”

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