Burning a Yule Log.
It’s not a Christmas tradition that we truly participate in anymore. Though we may build crackling fires and roast chestnuts, I’d daresay that none of us have ever sat around an actual Yule Log.
That’s because old-fashioned Yule Logs were very big.
Big enough to burn for twelve days straight, the entirety of the Christmas season. Often times, a family would drag an entire trunk into their house, stick one end in the fireplace, leave the other end sticking out into the room, and slowly push the trunk into the fireplace as it burned down over the next week and a half.
Our modern day houses with their central heat are just ill-equipped to burn such unwieldy firewood.
But on Christmas Day in 1903, some Paducah citizens got awfully close to burning a true Yule Log. They burned not just a trunk, but a whole tree. And it wasn’t just any old tree that they burned, but a rather recognizable landmark in town.
The tree they burned was described as a “massive and stubby oak” and sat at what is now the intersection of Highway 45 and Lovelaceville Road. The tree was highly visible at that location as it was the only tree in the immediate area. People referenced the oak when giving directions. That single tree was so identifiable that it became synonymous with that section of town. In fact, people just started calling the area Lone Oak.
That’s right…the original tree for which Lone Oak was named was chopped down and used for a Christmas Day fire.
But don’t let this bit of trivia ruin your good cheer. This was no act of mischief, no bit of holiday vandalism. The tree was not cut down in its prime. The “lone oak” in question had already been dead for a couple years before that fated night.
In his 1976 “History of Lone Oak,” Bill Powell stated that a group of “playful young men,” including D.M. “Doc” Potts, got together on December 25, 1903 to finally bring the oak to rest. “There was no ceremony, no fond remembrances; the tree was just lying there in sawed-up sections.”
But there was respect. As Doc Potts said in a later interview, “It seemed like a good idea to burn it as celebration.”
And a fitting tribute it seems to be. You can imagine there were many who warmed their hands and hearts around the old oak’s glow that night.
For more about Christmas traditions in old Paducah, visit us in the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.