A Practical Guide for Keeping the Yuletide Vigil for Urban Living

The winter solstice is almost upon us, being just a little over a week away. That means Yuletide festivities are about to start and many good folk are getting more grey hair as they try to figure out how in the world they are going to manage to pull off another one of these big holiday celebrations. There’s so much food to prepare. Did you want to decorate a tree? What about a wreath instead? Maybe you want to do both? Who is doing the blot? Is there enough to drink for sumble? How many people are staying the night? Is the Yule Log ready? Wait! The Yule Log! There isn’t a fireplace! What do we do now? It’s enough to drive a person to run screaming into the woods like Charlie Brown during a panic attack. Maybe I’m laying the hyperbole on a little thick here but you get my point. There’s a lot to do and not all of us have the resources to do “everything,” especially those who live in urban environments. So, let’s try and take just a little pressure off on one of the big things that often gets people all worked up; what to do if you can’t burn a Yule Log.

This seems to be the one thing that comes up year after year. To be honest, urban living doesn’t exactly make this easy to resolve but there are some simple solutions that can fit in to almost anyone’s lifestyle, whether it’s a small suburban home without a fireplace, an apartment, or even a college dorm room that prohibits open flames.

Situation # 1: My house doesn’t have a fireplace or the fireplace isn’t usable.

If you are living in an area where you have a back yard and there isn’t a current burn ban in effect and you just have to have a fire all night long, this is really an easy fix. The first, and cheapest, option is to dig a fire pit in your back yard and ring it with some bricks. You will likely need to check county and city ordinances regarding open outdoor fires, however. You really don’t want the neighbors calling the cops or fire department and ruining your holiday cheer. A similar option would be to get one of those portable, above ground fire “pits” that have become so popular. They don’t require digging a hole in your back yard and have the added benefit of being visually attractive and easy to relocate. If, for some reason, you can’t have an open flame in your back yard, but want to make use of a non-functional fireplace, you can always get a decent sized piece of wood, drill a few holes in it that you can place come candles, decorate it up a little, and place it in your fireplace.

Situation # 2: I live in an apartment and can’t have a fire pit.

This is where we have to start getting a bit creative but there are several solutions, some of which are similar to the last option above. First, get yourself a piece of firewood that you can safely put someplace safe. Most likely, it will need to be smaller than in the above option. Drill a few holes in it and place some candles. Keep those burning throughout the night as you keep vigil. This option has the added benefit of being an attractive holiday decoration that you can use for years to come, even if you move to someplace with a fireplace or fire pit. A second option for those who want something a bit easier because they are, like me, handicraft impaired is to get a Seven Day candle or a large, three wick pillar candle. These will easily burn through the night. They aren’t quite as festive as other options but they will get the job done. This year, I’m somewhat splitting the difference in my home. My wife gave me a candleholder set that spells out “JUL” and holds 4 candles. This is an attractive decoration that will be the main focus in doors. For blót, I will be lighting a Seven Day candle at sunset and using that to light other candles in the house. It will continue to burn through the night and will be the source from which any new candles are lit.

Situation # 3: I can’t have an open flame.

This is always a hard situation to deal with, but today it is easier than ever to solve, even if the solution is sub-optimal. There are many manufacturers of electric holiday decorations that look like candles. There isn’t much you can do about the fact that they look fake but if you are a truly creative person then you should be able to spruce it up a bit. Some are, however, rather attractive. What matters most is not the source of the light but that you are doing everything in your power to honor the traditions given your limitations. This is also a great solution for people who want to have a light on all night but aren’t able to stay up all night keeping vigil. It’s safe, effective, and not too costly. It is also a good way to encourage young children to participate without risking the safety of the home. I know of one family that gave their two young children electric candles to place in their windows during all the nights of Yule and it worked out very well for them.

So, there you have it, a simple, practical guide to keeping vigil during Yule when you face some difficulties with the Yule Log. I’m sure that there are plenty of other situations out there that similar solutions can be found for, whether it is for Yule or some other holiday. Have a happy and good Yule, everyone!


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