Where does the bûche de Noël come from?

If you mean the cake, reader Henry, it doesn’t have a very long history. Certainly, it dates no further back than the late 1800’s, probably to the the turn of the last century. The ever-resourcesful Jim Chevalier did some of his usual sleuthing yesterday, and found no printed references that date back before the first few years of the Twentieth Century. Here’s a nifty drawing of one from a cookbook dated 1906. According to Jim, most of the available references are in English, which leads one to wonder if the cake wasn’t originally invented by English speakers.

Be that as it may, the yule log itself — which is to say an actual wooden log burned at Christmas time — is a far, far older thing. Just how old is a matter of debate. Printed references to yule logs in English go back to roughly the early 1600’s, though it seems certain that the tradition of burning a special log at Christmas was imported to Britain from somewhere else. Many historians claim that yule logs were traditional in places like France, Belgium and Italy from the 1100’s onward. Others speculate that the Yule log springs from a far older winter solstice tradition rooted in Germanic and/or Nordic paganism, which is the point where we start to get into Vikings, Druids, hobbits and other creatures that I don’t really care all that much about. However if you have a desire to steep yourself in the (highly) speculative history of yule log, search the terms on Google, you’ll find no end of writing on the subject.

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