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posted: 12/23/2012 5:42 AM

Morton Arboretum gears up for annual yule log hunt

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  • The Morton Arboretum will sponsor its 35th annual hunt for the yule log starting at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 30, at the museum in Lisle.

      The Morton Arboretum will sponsor its 35th annual hunt for the yule log starting at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 30, at the museum in Lisle.
    Daily Herald file photo

  • Hundreds of visitors try to sort through complicated and funny clues to be the first to find the 6-foot yule log hidden on the grounds of the Morton Arboretum.

      Hundreds of visitors try to sort through complicated and funny clues to be the first to find the 6-foot yule log hidden on the grounds of the Morton Arboretum.
    Daily Herald file photo

  • Ryan Todd of Naperville has been the first person to find the yule log in each of the past two years at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle.

       Ryan Todd of Naperville has been the first person to find the yule log in each of the past two years at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 

Think yule logs only make for anticlimactic television?

The uninterrupted hours and hours of just a burning log on screen have long been a holiday staple for homebodies and couch potatoes.

But at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, there's a more cryptic -- and healthier -- spin on the yule log.

Hundreds of competitors will attempt to decipher a set of clues leading them to a 6-foot log hidden somewhere on the arboretum's 1,700 acres on Sunday, Dec. 30. The 35th annual hunt for the yule log has many participants racing -- even running -- to claim the coveted log first.

Organizers will hide the log in advance of the rain-or-shine event, says Mary Samerdyke, the arboretum's manager of interpretation. So don't even think about looking for fresh tracks in the snow to guide you.

"We are very, very sneaky about hiding the log," Samerdyke said, almost with a mischievous laugh.

The riddles are all in rhyme and typically full of puns related to the arboretum's vast array of trees and shrubs, a bit of a challenge for organizers faced with names like sycamore or sequoia.

Here's a puzzler from a previous hunt: "Wind around a grassy edge so sunny, an imprisoned tree, whose 'size' name is funny."

Already stumped (pun intended)?

"Yuletide Spirit" will offer some helpful hints at a pre-hunt ceremony at Arbor Court, where a bonfire ignites a chunk of the yule log from last's year hunt. To identify plants, read tags attached on the south side of trees, Samerdyke said. Trail guides also are available in strategic areas.

A trumpet blast marks the start of the hunt.

"About half of the group usually dashes in the wrong direction," Samerdyke said. "That's where our trail leaders come in."

Each clue leads to a unique site where participants will enter a punch into their clue sheet. They must punch their sheet in the correct order. Rules like that help level the playing field between frequent arboretum visitors who may be tempted to skip ahead and first-time hunters, Samerdyke said.

"We try to be as fair as possible," she said.

Once the log is found, the winner uses a toboggan or ropes to haul it back to Arbor Court for a presentation of the prizes: hand-painted wooden medallions and the first toast of wassail, a cider-like drink. About half of the log is preserved for next year's bonfire.

"The thrill of the hunt is fun," Samerdyke said. "We have a lot of people who, even when the yule log is found, continue on. They want to make sure they actually went through the whole trail."

The burning of the log dates back to pre-Christian customs in northern Europe during the winter solstice. The ceremonial ritual was thought to bring back sunlight and longer days, Samerdyke said.

At the arboretum, the Frozen Robins, carolers dressed in Dickensian costume, will offer modern spins on classic tunes.

"What they do really well is take what we might think of as either traditional carols or some of the more contemporary ones and they 'Robinize' them," Samerdyke said. "They're really engaging. They have a great sense of humor."

The hunt runs from 2 to 4 p.m. A version for youngsters, a yule "twig" hunt, runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the children's garden.

Both events are free with admission to the arboretum, 4100 Route 53. For details, call (630) 968-0074 or visit mortonarb.org.

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