John Knoepfle and his family have participated in the annual Hunt for the Yule Log at the Morton Arboretum for more than a decade, but they never found the prize -- until Sunday.
The Naperville residents found the yule log in 35 minutes, a fitting time considering that Sunday was the 35th year for the event.
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"We started doing it because we love the arboretum," said John Knoepfle, standing next to his wife, Cristina, and his daughter, Nikki. "Now, it's really a family tradition for us."
The yule log hunt invites people to search the arboretum for a six-feet-long piece of wood that's festooned with a red bow. Hunters are given clues that lead them to various checkpoints, at which they have to get their programs punched. To win, an individual or group must be the first to find the log after reaching all the necessary checkpoints in order.
The yule log tradition dates back to the Vikings, who used it as part of their celebration of the winter solstice. Arboretum officials said their version has become a favorite holiday season event for local families.
"People are drawn to the thrill of the hunt," said Mary Samerdyke, manager of interpretation at the arboretum. "And it's a nice way to enjoy the holiday season."
More than 100 people gathered at the arboretum Sunday to take part in the hunt. When a trumpet blast signaled the start, the hunters took off excitedly, some using their cellphones like walkie-talkies to communicate with other hunters in their group.
"We get some families that do it year after year," Samerdyke said. "Some folks take it very seriously."
Knoepfle said his family doesn't follow any specific strategy when searching for the log.
"We just tried to keep moving from place to place as fast as we could," he said.
The Knoepfles lugged the log back to the starting point near the arboretum's Visitors Center. It was then ceremoniously sliced in half while an a cappella singing group, the Frozen Robins, sang holiday carols. The event ended with a formal hot cider toast to the Knoepfle family.
"It felt great to win it this year," John Knoepfle said.
For information on future events, go to mortonarb.org.