Families who came to the Stillman Nature Center in South Barrington Sunday not only enjoyed nature on a rare 60-degree December day, but also prepared for the holidays by decorating Yule logs and finding a use for an otherwise invasive species.
On Sunday, the center hosted a Yule Log Open House, proving the raw materials for visitors to decorate their own Yule logs: pine cones, greenery, berries and ribbons.
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Guests were given eight-inch pieces of log. They fastened the evergreen material with a hot glue gun, adorning with a bow, and tucking in pine cones and berries.
Susan Allman, president of the nature center board, explained that Yule logs are a European tradition, and people throw the Yule log into the fire on Christmas Eve. According to the center's literature, the tradition even predates Christianity, going back to prehistoric times.
Yule logs have been a long-standing tradition for Allman, who brought the practice to Stillman. She was assisted Sunday by a retired teacher and member of the Stillman board, Susan Kowall, who added horticulture experience.
The most common trees used are the ash, oak, beech and pine. But on Sunday, they used buckthorn, an invasive shrub the center has been cutting down for land management purposes.
"We have so many large buckthorns at Stillman that we cut down the buckthorn and turn them into Yule logs," Allman said. "So the good thing is it's getting a second life."
Laura Thome, of Algonquin, brought her 4-year-old granddaughter, Kayleigh DeGeorge, who had fun picking out the ribbons for her Yule log even though they didn't have ribbons in her favorite color, purple.
Besides making a Yule log together, Thome said the event provided her with a chance to show Kayleigh some owls and experience the beauty of the nature center.
"It's just so accessible to everybody," she said. "I can come and walk through anytime I want when it's open and see the animals here. I wanted to show her, because (we) go hiking all over the place."