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The Yule Log, for everybody’s Christmas Hearth is a supernatural tale that incorporates fairies, anthropomorphic objects and a moral message about the importance of family, all framed within a dream.
It is illustrated by George Cruikshank, who had a wealth of previous experience composing Christmas scenes for publications such as The Comic Almanack. The pages shown here are a classic portrayal of middle-class Victorian celebrations in the combination of family and friends, dance, song and music, evergreen greenery, and plentiful food, drink and roaring fires.
Originally, each copy had a gilt cover and leaves as was the vogue for seasonal gift-book-style publications.
Thematically, structurally and linguistically, The Yule Log shares similarities with other Christmas books of the 1840s. It is Alexander Chamerovzow’s first and only foray into this genre, which the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography speculates was motivated ‘presumably for a share of the Christmas book market’ following the success of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1843) and others like it.
In William Makepeace Thackeray’s essay ‘A Grumble about the Christmas Books’, the author targets The Yule Log for the way in which it cautiously conforms to an increasingly over-saturated, predictable genre.
Chamerovzow’s novella illustrates the European midwinter custom of gathering and burning the Yule Log. Traditionally on Christmas Eve, families would bring home and burn the largest piece of wood that could fit on their fire – some sources report whole trees. Burnt for 12 nights, the Yule Log was believed to bring posterity to the family and protect them from evil. If it burnt out on Christmas Day, however, it was considered unlucky.
Judith Flanders describes how many of our own Christmas traditions – from trees and crackers to cards and carols – have their origins in 19th-century industrial and commercial interests.