xmas round pic

La büche de Noël - French Christmas cake.

The Büche de Noël (or Christmas Log) is a sponge cake which is rolled and shaped like a log. Inside there is often a creamy filling and it is covered in chocolate to make it look like a log.

The log and the hearth in which it burned are very ancient symbols associated with Christmas time. The hearth was the centre of warmth, cooking food and, therefore, comfort in homes many hundreds of years ago.

The tradition of logs of wood and Christmas comes from the times before French people were Christian. People believed that some trees had very special powers which were made stronger through burning the wood and using the ashes. A huge log was found just before the Winter solstice, often so big that its roots were still attached. Part of the log was used to make the wedge for the plough as good luck for the coming harvest. People would burn the rest of the logs at a special festival in December called Yule.

Logs burning on fire.

With the coming of Christianity, the tradition still continued. The log was put into the hearth whilst people recited their prayers and was left to burn slowly for the duration of the Christmas period - from Christmas Day to New Year's Day (Nouvel An) or the Epiphany (twelfth night) (l'Épiphanie).

As the log burned people would watch the flames. They would use the flames and sparks to predict the coming year. According to the sparks that they saw, they predicted the number of chickens or calves to be born, marriages within the family, health and wealth.

Logs burning on fire

When the log was burned, people would then spread the ashes and cinders on their fields. They believed this would bring them a better harvest. The ashes were spread around the chicken pens to keep foxes away. People also spread the ashes in the barns and lofts where they stored their corn since they kept rats and weevils away.

The ashes were considered to protect the home and household from illness, and accidents. Some of the cinders and charcoal from the log were kept inside peoples' houses since it was believed that if you relit them during a thunderstorm it would protect your property from lightening

Over time, though, customs changed. Newer houses were built with smaller hearths. The log became a symbol taking the form of the cake that is enjoyed today. The cake form of the Büche de Noël seems to have originated about 1870.

In Southern France today, the tradition continues to linger and people still burn a log in their homes from Christmas Eve until New Years Day.

Try the recipe above for your Buche de Noël.



A "grand repas" at Christmas

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