Last played in Stromness in 1937, the Stromness Yule Log Pull was revived on Hogmanay in 2017 as part of the town’s Per Mare 200 celebrations. Pitting folk living in the north end of the town against those living in the south, the two teams battle in a tug of war, as the log is dragged through the streets to opposing goals at either end of the town.
Traditionally the Yule Log competition was played late on Christmas Eve by boys and younger men of the town. Their starting point was Graham Place, with the Northenders vying to get to the Pierhead and the Soothenders heading for “Ma Humph’s” pier off Alfred Street — with the log either burned or jettisoned into the sea on arrival. The log for the event was “procured” from a local garden, with a tree being cut down by team members under cover of darkness. Garden owners were often known to guard their trees until well into the night. The practice of obtaining the tree caused much annoyance to local folk and eventually, in 1935, the town council outlawed the cutting down of a tree for the game. For a very short period, the local youths were provided with a log with which to play but, with a vital element of the ‘fun’ lost, the game died out in 1937.
A report in The Orcadian on December 30, 1920, described that year’s game:
“Towards evening the boys fished out a tree, and having attached a couple of stout ropes, the Northenders and Southenders had a tussle for possession. Greatly assisted and encouraged by several enthusiastic women, the log went South, merrily oh! dragged by willing hands amid much shouting and yelling. Then all was quiet.”
For the past 3 years the Yule Log Pull has been jointly organised by Stromness Community Development Trust and Stromness Yule Log committee – made up of an equal number of northenders and soothenders.
Since its revival in 2017, the event has continued evolve and grow interest. In 2018, to celebrate Event Scotland’s Year of Young People, a Junior Log Pull was added to the event. Proving successful, the Junior Log Pull made a welcome return at the 2019 event, along with the addition of two junior captains at the helm.
2019 also saw a change of course for both the Senior and Junior Log Pulls. The decision to alter the course was made by the committee in a bid for the event to remain as fair as possible. This will be reviewed annually.
The event has previously been supported by Event Scotland’s Winter Festivals Fund, providing funding for essential expenses such as event safety, marketing costs and a fireworks display.
Since 2017, the event has also been supported by many local companies and businesses through in-kind donations.
Unfortunately due to Covid-19 restrictions, SCDT and the Yule Log committee decided to cancel the 2020 Yule Log Pull. It was agreed that the fireworks display, which usually provides a fitting finale to the event, would go ahead and provide an opportunity for the community to mark the occasion and celebrate the start of a New Year. The brilliant fireworks were supplied by William Shearers and funded by OIC’s Culture Fund.