“Yule” Love the Palmer Lake Yule Log Festival

By Kaitlyn Ketchell and Luxe Palmer

Palmer Lake is characterized by their many small-town traditions, such as the Palmer Lake Starlighting and the Yule Log Festival. The Yule Log Festival, held in many towns across the world, revolves around hiding and searching for the traditional Yule Log, a large log marked with a red ribbon. The Yule Log got its name from the medieval times, when households would make a fire Christmas night with just one large log that could burn all night long.

The Yule Log Festival began at Town Hall with all the participants eagerly standing outside.

The Palmer Lake Yule Log ceremony started all the way back in 1933, making this year’s Yule Log the 87th annual one. It was started by Lucretia Vaile, who, after participating in a Yule Log ceremony in New York, decided she wanted to bring the tradition back to Colorado. According to Niall Byrne, the Yule Log Master of Ceremonies, “The only couple of years the Yule Log didn’t take place was during World War II, because there was just too much going on and they just weren’t able to do it then.”

Yule Loggers waiting outside, social-distanced and with masks

Palmer Lake proudly holds the title of the longest consecutive years of Yule Log celebrations in the U.S. It has also been the beginning of other Yule Log ceremonies around the country, with people taking a “splinter” from Palmer Lake’s log to bring back to their own town to start a Yule Log tradition there. 

The Yule Log is marked with a ribbon wrapped inside a notch in the log

This year, the Yule Log kicked off in front of Town Hall with the Pledge of Allegiance and the blessing of the hunt, performed by Byrne and his son, Nolan. Typically, the Yule Log consists of a full day of events: a potluck supper, community sing, traditional ceremony, storytelling, and the distribution of songbooks and yule log pins. Though we weren’t able to participate in those traditions this year due to COVID concerns, the festival was still held, just with a few modifications.

“…Even though this year with all the COVID restrictions, we still wanted to keep that record, which is why we decided to go ahead and have it this year. Plus, a lot of people were asking us if we would as well, so we’re happy to regain the title as the longest consecutive [yule log festival],” Byrne said. 

Participants wait at the Palmer Lake Trailhead for the hunt to begin

After the Pledge of Allegiance, participants were guided in social-distanced groups by trail leaders up to the Palmer Lake Reservoir trailhead. The log, marked by a notch with a red ribbon, was hidden within about a 300-foot radius around the trailhead- note that the surrounding forest was absolutely covered in fallen trees and logs nestled into the brush. A whistle started off the beginning of the hunt; people raced through the woods in search of the beloved log. Couples, families, friends, and kids of all ages scrambled up the hills and ducked through the thicket for over an hour and a half until the long-anticipated words, “I found the log!” had been shouted. 

Participants stand around the ridge where the log was found, waiting for the log to be hauled back to Town Hall

The Finder of the Log this year was Mary Karis, a first-time log hunter. “We were looking for a little bit rounder of a log than last year and so… me and my nephews went down underneath [the brush] and we found it!” Once the log was announced as found, it was hauled out from the forest back to Town Hall in a pickup truck. Traditionally, the log is pulled back with all the kids riding on top of it, but along with other traditions, it was modified this year. 

Mary Karis, the Finder of the Log, and her nephews

Back at Town Hall, Karis celebrated her victory by cutting the log in half. Half of the log, as well as half of last year’s log, was burnt that night in Town Hall’s fireplace. Next year, the other half of this year’s log will be burnt with half of next year’s log, and so on. Karis also received a round from the end of the log to bring home. 

Mary Karis had the honor of cutting the Yule Log in half, with the help of a trail leader

Finally, the drinking of the wassail concluded the festival. Wassail, a mulled cider originally part of medieval Christmas celebrations and pronounced “wah-ssul”, was ladled out of a special ceremonial bowl by Niall Byrne for the Finder of the Log. Karis got the first sip of wassail and gave the traditional cheer- “Wassail, wassail!” Wassail was then distributed to the rest of the festival-goers, and the festival was officially over.

Wassail can be described as apple cider, with extra spices and some orange juice mulled into it