Time Machine Tuesday: Christmas Traditions at Palmer Lake

One of Colorado’s most beloved Christmas traditions is the Yule Log Ceremony held every year in the town of Palmer Lake, in El Paso County.  The tradition was started in 1933 by Lucretia Vaile, who had seen a similar event in Lake Placid, NY.  Yule Log ceremonies date back to the ancient Norsemen as a way to celebrate the winter solstice.  In Palmer Lake, the ceremony usually attracts about 500 revelers each year, who hunt for a previously-hidden log and, when finding it, haul it back to the town hall where it is burned while spectators sing carols and sip toddies.  A piece of the log is retained to burn in the next year’s event.  The town of Beulah, in Pueblo County, also holds an annual Yule Log Festival, begun in 1952 with a splinter of a log from Palmer Lake.

Lucretia Vaile, who started the Palmer Lake ceremony, was the daughter of a prominent Denver attorney.  The family had a summer home in Palmer Lake, and young Lucretia fell in love with the town, spending as much time there as she could.  She continued to own a summer home in Palmer Lake until 1968, when she donated it to the town for an arts center.  Today, the town’s museum and library are named for Lucretia Vaile.  Lucretia herself was a librarian at the Denver Public Library.

In 1934, the year after Lucretia started the Yule Log ceremony, Palmer Lake began a second seasonal tradition.  Each year a 500-foot-wide Star of Bethlehem is brightly lit on a mountaintop above the town. The star is so big that it can be seen from I-25.

You can read more about the history of these two Palmer Lake traditions in this 1952 article published in the Colorado Magazine.  Here you can also find the words to “Song of the Kindling Log” and other Old English yuletide tunes, as well as the town’s recipe for wassail punch.  Also be sure to check out the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection, which contains a number of articles about the Palmer Lake festivities through the years.

A photo postcard from the 1940s shows the lighted star above the town of Palmer Lake.