The Yule log… to many of us it’s merely a film loop of a crackling fireplace that glows from our TV screens. But it’s actually a tradition dating back to Yule, an archaic term originating from the Germanic people who celebrated a midwinter event called Yuletide during the Winter Solstice. As Christianity grew throughout Europe, Yuletide celebrations morphed into Christian ones.
In ancient Tuscany, a Yule log or Ceppo (pronounced che-po in Italian) was put in the fireplace on Christmas Eve to burn through the night. The family gathered in front of the hearth, ceremoniously, and as author Carlo Lapucci explains in his article Natale, la Tradizione del Ceppo (Christmas, The Tradition of Ceppo), “The Ceppo… it wasn’t just a physical thing, to give warmth… but much more: it was the symbol of the union of heaven and earth with light; the union and of love of family with fire…”
At some point, ancient Tuscan families created a vertical version of a Ceppo. Shaped like a pyramid, they adorned this wooden structure with ribbons and bows, and added shelves, filling them with gifts on Christmas Eve. Each shelf had a specific meaning:
- The bottom shelf: the Presepio/Nativity Scene, representing the gift of God
- The second shelf: fruits and nuts representing the gifts of the earth
- The third shelf: Earthly presents, represent the gift of man
I love the Ceppo because it stems from ancient ancestral tradition, yet any modern family today can personalize one with adornments that are meaningful to them. Dreidels and Stars of David; snow frosted winter accouterments; Christmas photos from years past and twinkling lights – the possibilities are endless and time together planning and building, priceless!
My friend and Woman You Should Know Rebecca in Johnstown, NY has made Ceppo building a holiday event. It’s a fun project that brings her family together in a new way, based on an old Italian tradition. She shared the “how to” steps and pictures with me for all of you to enjoy.
How To Make A Ceppo
You can find all of the materials you’ll need to build a Ceppo in a craft store, but you can also do what Rebecca did and gather twigs, leaves, and pinecones right from your own backyard!
- Using bamboo sticks, tie the tips together with craft wire, then separate the legs creating a 4-legged pyramid
- For the shelves, using twigs, a glue gun, wire and twine, make 3 square shelves increasing in size, with the biggest for the base
- With wire and a glue gun, insert the shelves, wedging them in between the legs
- Adorn the legs and shelves with ribbons, garland, berries, pinecones, fruit, gifts, etc.; in keeping with tradition, Rebecca arranged a Nativity scene on the bottom shelf
It’s a really fun and easy holiday DIY project, but if you don’t want to make your own, Rebecca and her family also custom make Ceppos that are available for purchase… you can reach her through her Facebook page if you’re interested.
Buon Natale a tutti, Happy Holidays to all!
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