Pat Shingeton: "Yule Log, Gunpowder and Lightning..."
With one seasonal tradition over, the next has begun. Advent is underway and preparations for the Christmas Season are also occurring. Some may believe the Yule Log is a Christmas related tradition, however in Germany, the burning of this large block of oak is a different time-honored ritual. The tradition predates Christianity and has some connection with the ancient Aryan creed associating the oak tree with the god of thunder. Germans withdraw the Yule log as soon as it is charred as it is kept in the house throughout the year, repositioned on the fire during thunderstorms. Many believed bolts of lightning wouldn't strike a house where a Yule Log was smoldering. Other "Yule" applications include a goat, and a boar. The recent "snow-unload" in the Northeast stranded some motorists and reminded me of a similar incident. In 1979, I commuted just about every week from Baton Rouge to Pittsburgh while doing a stint with the NBC affiliate there, WPXI. I would leave my car at the Airport Sheraton, expecting a routine trek through the city to the station. A surprise snowstorm dumped a foot of snow on the city within a couple of hours, delaying my travel time from 25 minutes to four hours. Worse than skidding on the parkway in Pittsburgh was the attire I donned when leaving Baton Rouge that morning – shorts and a golf shirt. Most of the floor crew shouted “Fore,” as I entered the station shivering and snow covered. From snow to lightining..."Poor Richard's Almanac" included an article in 1753 entitled "How to Secure Houses from Lightning." An inventor explained the success of his experiments with rods attached to the homes of fellow Philadelphians. In 1760, merchant William West's home was hit by lightning. The rod attached to West's home performed just as its inventor had predicted, and the house remained unscathed. As people in Europe hailed the invention, others were antagonistic to the idea. In addition, church leaders rejected the idea of protecting the church steeples from lightning, believing that these strikes were an act of God. In Italy, military authorities would store explosives in church vaults, feeling they were secure. In 1767, the church of St. Nazaire in Brescia was hit by lightning exploding 100 tons of gunpowder. As you probably know, the inventor of the lightning rod was Benjamin Franklin, still keeping us safe today.