As winter approaches along with the holiday hustle and bustle, there is an annual celebration that brings with it the merriment of the holidays for all to enjoy. Each year at the Yule Log Celebration at Schafer State Park in Elma, people gather for a log hunt, delicious food, Christmas carols, and more to kick off the holiday season.
The Yule Log festivities first started in the mid 1950s and became a tradition for over 20 years before it faded out and stopped happening altogether. But thanks to Friends of Schafer and Lake Sylvia (FOSLS), a local group that works to keep state parks open and growing, it was brought back in 2009 and it has become a beloved event that dozens of people come out to enjoy each December.
“We were looking for old-timey events that used to be in the park as a way to bring people back into the park,” says Stet Palmer, board member of FOSLS.
The day is an adventure for all children as they go on their hunt to be the first to find the log that has been cut and marked with a red bow and piece of holly somewhere out in the woods. Once the log has been found, a horn is blown and all of the children gather to tie a rope to the log and haul it back.
“The first year we did it, it was so perfect,” says Trina Young, FOSLS board member. “We all got there and the kids headed out to look for it and it started to snow. And it was just like a Christmas card when they came hauling it back through.”
Once the log has been found and hauled back, it is cut in two where half is burned during the celebration and half is saved to start the next year’s fire.
“Whoever finds it is kind of the hero of the day,” Palmer says. “They cut the log in two and get their name put on the axe.”
Something unique about the finder getting to put their name on the axe is that it is the very same one that was first used when the Yule Log hunt first started several decades ago. The horn that is blown when the log has been discovered is the original horn, too. With close supervision, every child is given the chance to take a swing at the log, adding another element of excitement to the outing.
Back in the 1950s and the following years, people used to haul down an old pump organ in the back of a truck to accompany the Christmas carols while people enjoyed a fire, cookies and homemade spiced tea after the hunt. Palmer reflects on a funny memory from the original celebrations he attended in the 1960s when it came to the spiced tea.
“Some people, we found out, weren’t letting their kids drink it,” Palmer laughs. “They thought we said it was spiked tea. It’s tea my mom would make with cheesecloth full of oranges and cloves and all that stuff.”
Well known community members have participated in the celebrations in the past. Like Montesano’s Doctor James Moore who has now passed away but used to play the accordion at the events, and Montesano’s Chris Pickering who has also now passed away but would MC the celebrations. Several other prominent community members have participated as well, such as Bill Stewart, an attorney in Montesano.
The park is a great location for people from all around to come join in on the fun and get into the holiday spirit together. Whether people have been going for years or are attending for the first time, there’s always a feeling of fellowship.
“It’s just a really warm feeling when you’re there,” Young says. “It’s the start of the Christmas season and there’s a lot of community togetherness, camaraderie, and there’s an overwhelming sense that we’re doing this for the kids. And the kids love it. Especially, I think, the kids’ favorite thing is chopping the log because they get to handle an axe.”
One person who has gotten to handle the axe as the finder twice is Lilly Schweppe of Satsop. She found the log once when she was a little girl and then again when she was a teenager, showing that this sweet celebration can become a true family favorite to attend.
The event is kept very easy paced and non-commercial for those looking for simple family fun during the holidays and the shelter is also decorated each year to give it an old time Christmas feel, says Young.
This year, the celebration is on Sunday, December 9, 2018 at 1:00 p.m. at Schafer State Park. There will also be a holiday cake contest for those wanting to start off the season with some tasty holiday baking. For more information, contact Stet Palmer at 360-789-9953. For more information on the FOSLS group, visit the FOSLS website or Facebook page.