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The Burning of the Yule Log

The Burning of the Yule Log

A Story by Delores Jordan
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This was published in an anthology titled Christmas Is a Season 2009, Excalibur Press, Linda busby Parker, editor

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“The Burning of the Yule Log”

By

N L Snowden

I wanted no part of Christmas that year. I didn’t want to remember our family traditions, and I didn’t want to worship a God who had heaped such misery upon me. I drifted back from the mailbox turning over what was obviously my first Christmas card of the season addressed to Bob and Helen Strange. I didn’t have the heart to open it and see the smiling faces of the George family with their bragging letter of how wonderful the past year had been. In fact, as I walked by the trashcan, I ditched it.

Bob, my husband of twenty-five years, had left me for a younger woman and cleaned out our bank accounts. Since both of our names were on the account, it was legal and there was nothing I could do about it. As if things weren’t sorry enough, I had to call my daughter and tell her I had more bad news"I had ovarian cancer.

The doctors had stressed the importance of positive thinking in order for my body’s immune system to aid in treating my cancer, but how could I think positively when I looked at the world through a waterfall of constant tears? Nothing was as it should be"even my vision made things out of focus or doubled the images.

My world had collapsed.

When Sarah came home from college, it would be even more of a shock"the obvious empty chair at our Christmas dinner table, the lack of a video camera capturing us as we opened the presents, and that famous grin on her father’s face. I just couldn’t face trying to fit the square of our lives now into the circle of what it used to be.

Sarah, we won’t be celebrating Christmas this year.”

“Mom, that’s okay. I don’t feel much like having Christmas with Daddy gone anyway.” When I didn’t respond, she said, “Mom, are you okay? Something besides Daddy’s leaving is bothering you. I hear it in your voice.”

The question made me realize the complete magnitude of my misery, and I broke down crying. Between gulps, I managed to get out, “Honey, I’ve been to the doctor, and he told me I’ve got ovarian cancer. You know how I feel about chemo and the horrors of the treatments. I’m opting out and going to live my life the best I can for as long as I can without the effects of chemo and radiation making me sicker.”

“No, Mom, please . . . for me, please go through the treatments. I’ve lost Dad. I couldn’t bear losing you too.”

All my fears of needles and throwing up melted with that plea from my daughter. She was right. I was being selfish and not thinking of her. Trouble was, even with the treatments, no one could guarantee me a long life.

Sarah, you know how I hate""

“Mom, call me Randgrith, my Asatru name. I’ll be strong enough for both of us. Please give yourself a chance.”

“A chance at what? Crying all of the time because I’m so lonely and jealous?”

Despite my words, I knew I had to make an honest attempt to live, for her sake if nothing else. “Okay, you win. I’ll do the chemo, Sarah"I mean Randgrith. I’ll call you by that name, but you’ll always be Sarah to me. Will you pray to Odin for me? My God has written me off and no longer hears my prayers.”

I’m an Episcopalian and I don’t believe in the Bible literally. At that moment, I didn’t believe in any part of it. It was just a bunch of myths like the Viking myths of the Asatru or the Greek and Roman myths.

“Of course I will, Mom. Listen, I know things are going badly for you right now, but I have a big favor to ask of you?”

“I can’t make any promises now,” I said, “but go on and ask me.”

“On the twenty-second through the twenty-fourth of the month, a few of my friends from high school want to rent a cabin in the mountains and have a reunion. I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I graduated.”

Was she was going to come home and then leave me alone? How could she?

Then I remembered that she was young and living her life in spite of everything, even the news that I had cancer. A perpetual optimist, she probably figured that the treatments would actually cure me. I loved her enough not to dash all her hopes and ruin her holiday.

“Okay, but make sure you won’t drink and drive. Stay at the cabin and party. Don’t get in a car with anyone drinking.”

“God, Mom, I’m not sixteen. You know I’m responsible. Quit preaching to me.”

With a quiver in my voice, I said, “Okay, you can go.”

“I’m sorry I fussed at you, Mom. I know this has been hard on you, but please try to stop focusing on the negatives. Focus on what you have that many mothers would give anything to have"a daughter who loves you and respects you.”

I realized she was right, and I also realized the perfect way to show her how much I appreciated having a wonderful daughter like her. I was a Christian, but Sarah declared herself a pagan, so I decided that before she went on her trip, we would celebrate the lighting of the Yule log on the Winter Solstice, a very big Asatru event that praised Odin for his favors. I figured it would really help her through the holiday season and would help bolster my attitude. A pagan god was better than no god. She’d never bought the Bible thing anyway. Maybe she had been right all along. Her religion had imperfect gods and goddesses that messed up all of the time. I liked that. How could anyone say God was perfect when marriages ended and He allowed people’s lives to be cut short?

“Thank you, Honey. When you get home for the holidays, I have a big surprise for you. I think you’re going to love it.”

“Come on, Mom. I need some good news now. Tell me.”

“Okay, baby. When you get here, we’re going to decorate and burn a Yule log on the Winter Solstice and do away with all that Christmas crap.”

“Oh, Mom, you’re the best! Can I invite some of my Asatru friends over for the celebration?”

“Sure. I love you, Randgrith, more than you will ever know.”

“I love you too, Mom.”

We never hung up the phone without saying we loved each another.

Most Christians don’t know that Yule Tidings are an old Viking tradition. I knew that these two things would make this so much easier on Randgrith. She’d wanted to share her religion with me, and now she could. Our holiday celebration would be more like a sumbel where there would be a lot of bragging and gift giving to Odin. Being with her friends at Christmas would help remove the sting of her father’s abandoning us.

Since she didn't arrive until the twentieth, we had a lot to prepare for the Yule celebration before the Winter Solstice on the twenty-first. First, we had to find a log big enough to burn for twelve hours. In the days of old, the log had to measure in size big enough to burn for twelve days, not twelve hours. Second, we’d have to make the log acceptable to Odin by decorating it before we burned it. Sarah would be tired from the long drive back home, but celebrating Yule would energize her.

This was her first visit home since her father had split. As she walked through the living room, I watched her freeze before going to her room to put away her things. I saw her shoulders shake and knew that seeing his recliner missing from the family room brought home the truth that he was indeed gone. Of course, this unleashed a new open faucet of tears from me. I think watching my daughter’s pain was worse than the pain I’d felt at losing him.

“Randgrith, this is why we’ll not do Christmas ever again. I want to share your religion, but mainly I don’t want to endure mine and all the emptiness it now represents.”

She turned to me and we held each other, each lost in our memories of her father"both good and bad.

“Put your things in your room, then let’s go to the woods and get our log.”

I worried that we’d not be able to drag the Yule log out of the woods, especially with both of us so defeated emotionally. Then I remembered: By damn, we were two strong women, weren’t we? We both vowed not to shed another tear over the man who’d deserted us. We got up, dressed in layers because it was cold outside, and we headed out.

Inside the dusty barn that smelled of sweet hay and horse manure, we grabbed ropes, halters, nails and a hammer. We walked out into the cool, crisp air and trekked to the woods to look for the perfect log. Of course, our curious horses followed us, along with three dogs and our pot-bellied pig that thought he was a dog.

Deep inside the woods, we spotted it, an omen that we were on the right track. Most fallen trees are long and thin, but this one answered the call of destiny. Obviously, the log used to be the trunk of a good-sized tree. It would definitely burn for twelve hours. However, we knew immediately that we would never be able to drag it to the house.

Fortunately, we had horses. None had ever dragged anything, so we worried that it would scare the horse and make it think the big thing behind it was chasing it. We had to choose the horse least likely to spook and try to run away. Sarah’s half Lipizzan had the strength to drag the log, but he also was the one most likely to turn aggressive if he got scared. The Hapsburg kings had bred Lipizzans to be warhorses, so they attacked rather than ran.

We settled on my black-and-white gaited gelding named Skywalker. The problem was, we had no harness and wondered if we could trust Skywalker not to hurt himself or us in the process of dragging the log to the utility patio. Also, how could we burn the log in our cozy fireplace since it was far too big and heavy for us to get it into the house?

I bridled Skywalker, then we looked around for some makeshift way we could hook up the horse to the log. Between ropes, a hammer, a chain, and an old mule collar that had hung in our barn for years, we devised a way to pull the log. The plan was to use Skywalker’s love of food as the Skinnerian reward for taking one or two steps and pulling without lunging and taking off.

By then, it was dusk and difficult for us to see, but maybe that would work in our favor. We caught the other horses and put them in the barn so they wouldn’t cause any problems over the feed we’d have in the bucket. I put the collar on Skywalker, and he acted indignant. He shook his head with his curly black mane flying, trying to sling it off.

When I brought out a handful of sweet feed for Skywalker, he settled down. His prehensile lips felt like velvet to my touch. He was smart and seemed to know he had a mission, so he peacefully walked with us to the log. By a miracle, we managed to nail loops that we tied more rope to and tied the chain to the log so Skywalker could drag it.

The log was so big that I had to guide Skywalker with bit and bucket while Sarah pulled with a separate rope. Skywalker leaned into the collar and the log inched forward. I could see the whites of his eyes and knew he was about to hightail it out of there. He kicked out at the log with both hind legs and sent chips flying. Lucky for us, we were both standing to his front and side, so the blows never threatened us. Still, I feared he’d hurt himself.

Again, a handful of feed worked its magic on him. We spent a good thirty minutes taking two steps at a time as we convinced Skywalker that the huge monster behind him wouldn’t hurt him. Just as the stars came out, our hero dragged the log up onto the utility patio that held the trashcan, firewood bin, water hose and faucet.

Even with the chill in the air, Skywalker lathered between his hind legs from his exertion. I loved horses so much that the scent of horse sweat was a comforting smell to me. Since Sarah was already exhausted from the long drive home from school, I told her to go inside and rest while I took care of Skywalker and prepared him for his much-deserved rest in his stall. I walked him down to cool him off, groomed him and put him up.

When I finished, I walked by the giant log on my way inside and was so proud of what the three of us had done. Who needed a man in their lives"not us! Well, Skywalker was a male, so I guess we depended on one after all.

While I built a fire in the fireplace, Sarah said, “Be right back,” and went to her bedroom. When she returned, she handed me a bottle of wine. “Mom, that’s Meade. It’s an ale made from honey, and it’s what the Vikings used to drink. I shopped all over before I found a store that carried it. We need to chill it overnight. Oh, and one of my friends, Gunar, is coming in tomorrow. He said he hunted yesterday and killed a deer, so we’ll have venison roast instead of turkey.”

 

The next morning, we woke up in a merry mood to make the log acceptable to Odin. Sarah"Randgrith as she would be called for the celebration"decorated it with flour, sugar, pinecones and oak leaves. I mentally photographed the image of her dressed in a toboggan cap with her long chestnut hair hanging down her back, squatted down shaking flour along the log’s top. She’d gotten that beautiful, thick hair from her dad, but her stormy blue eyes were my gift to the sacred union that had produced her. A huge lump nearly choked me with so many different emotions.

Next, we each put a photograph of something important to us on the log as a symbol of our gift to Odin. Of course, mine was a photograph of my husband and me kissing on our wedding day. I gave Randgrith her privacy as she placed it out of sight between the tinder. Around the Yule log were the smaller branches and kindling used to ignite the gigantic log.

Since the Winter Solstice celebrated the shortest day of the year, the ceremony we performed at dusk was a short one.

“Hail to Odin for the meat that he provided from our hunt yesterday.”

“Hail to Odin for the sweet Meade that we drink in celebration of the Yule.”

“Hail to Odin for the family and friends gathered here to honor our god.”

With each “hail” we took long drinks of the Meade. I quickly began to feel tipsy because I wasn’t normally a drinker. We exchanged unwrapped gifts as the mighty log caught fire. We all watched in awe as the flames leapt in a dance of blue, orange and bright yellow. When the photographs caught fire, green joined the pallet because of the developing fluids used in the photos. The kaleidoscope of colors, along with the star-filled sky, astounded us. Since it was getting colder, we retired to the house and let the kids tell tales of their own greatness as the Vikings of old had done.

Randgrith was grinning, bragging and drinking more Meade. I had fun at first, then a horrible loneliness set in, as well as a swelling anger. I realized with a hateful bitterness that I had lost both my husband and my best friend, and I had cancer on top of all that. I resented the hell out of his leaving me, and I resented God for my disease. Bitterness eclipsed the feelings of thankfulness I wanted to feel that I had Randgrith home celebrating with me, not about to leave again.

Gradually, the kids’ laughter brought me out of my reverie. They all spent the night in the big, empty house, and that did make me feel better. However, I felt there was something empty in my life besides my broken heart, and I knew something was missing. Nothing could satisfy me"not the Yule celebration, not even Sarah and her friends. My anger turned to hopelessness verging on depression.

To our delight, the log was still smoldering the next morning. Odin had accepted the gifts and showed us his pleasure. Soon, it was time for Sarah and her friends to leave and for me to continue whatever Christmas celebration I could muster.

While Sarah was home, things weren’t quite so bad, but after she left for her reunion, my depression threatened to overtake me again. I looked in the mirror and saw sagging skin from losing thirty pounds in two months. An ugly old woman stared back at me"my acerbic mother who had been cold and hateful to me all of my life. I didn’t want to turn into her.

I had to do something to keep myself from falling into the abyss of depression. Out of desperation, I made up my mind to go to the Christmas Eve service at church and try to right things between God and myself. I wanted freedom from the weight of my own emptiness.

The bells chimed to announce midnight. The church was ablaze with lighted candles, and the scent of fresh holly filled my nostrils. Candlelight made the altar even lovelier than in natural light as the warm yellows reflected off its sacramental linens. I was suddenly filled with a sense of awe and reverence that my God was big and powerful.

The priest gave the most touching service on Jesus’ birth and what it symbolized in our lives. My hands shook with emotion as the message registered with me. After hearing the Christmas story and realizing the wondrous gift of a forgiving God, my anger turned to shame. Who was I to cast judgmental stones at God?

As I walked to the altar for communion, I became cognizant of Jesus’ forgiveness to all who had betrayed Him. Of course, I was no Jesus, but I knew that, with His help, I could do it too. I could forgive my ex and myself. I could also hope for physical healing and for spiritual rejuvenation. As I chewed the wafer and drank the wine, I thought, Lord, please find it in your heart to forgive me and show me how to forgive. I know I’m unworthy to ask you for anything right now, but if you’ll light the way, I will follow.

Immediately, warmth entered my heart. The hatred and bitterness miraculously disappeared. I literally felt God lift the burden of anger I carried, and I sensed my anxious face relaxing with a spirit of joy and love. His blessing gave me new hope. I wanted to live! Yes"I would fight my cancer with God’s help. I was at peace for the first time in months.

I could hardly wait to tell Sarah I had a new awakening and it had not come from Odin. It had come from the baby whose birthday we were celebrating. I would call her and wish her, not a happy Yule, but a happy Christmas.

As I walked out the church door, I looked at the babe lying in a manger on the church lawn.

"Happy birthday, baby, " I whispered. "Happy birthday."

© 2012 Delores Jordan


Author's Note

Delores Jordan
This story is about going through the holiday without a husband/dad and doing something different.

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Added on September 1, 2012
Last Updated on September 4, 2012
Tags: Asatru, horses, meade, Yule, pagan

Author

Delores Jordan
Delores Jordan

Mobile, AL



About
I'm the author of many short stories and had my short stories, essays, art, photography, and poems printed in literary magazines and anthologies. I love to write. I'm a member of two critique groups:.. more..

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