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W&M comes together for Yule Log ceremony

  • Bearing the loadStudents carry the Yule Log through the crowd to the Great Hall fireplace. Once the log is lit, students and other campus community members toss sprigs of holly on the fire that represent their concerns from the previous year.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    Bearing the load
  • White, I mean wet, ChristmasNot even rain and cold temps dampened the spirits of the Yule Log faithful.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    White, I mean wet, Christmas
  • Sounds of the seasonMembers of the William & Mary Choir filled the Wren Courtyard with the music of the holidays.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    Sounds of the season
  • Cue Santa"Santa" waits for his cue to read "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    Cue Santa
  • Jolly ol' St....TaylorWilliam & Mary President Taylor Reveley takes on a new role for the annual Yule Log ceremony.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    Jolly ol' St....Taylor
  • Home firesThe 2010 Yule Log burns bright in the Great Hall fireplace.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    Home fires

It had been raining steadily for two hours and showed no sign of slowing down last Saturday when the student body of William & Mary got an email from Ginger Ambler, the Vice President for Student Affairs. The subject line read “Yule Log is Still On in the Courtyard!”
And so it was. Neither rain nor cold nor the ever present weight of final papers left unfinished could keep the College’s annual Yule Log ceremony from happening this past weekend, and once again, hundreds of students of all ages, religions and varying stress-levels gathered in front of the Wren Building to celebrate the holidays in true Tribe fashion.

“For me personally, Yule Log is one of those traditions at William & Mary that makes up part of the William & Mary experience,” said Allison Mickel ’11. “When people ask why you chose to go here, and you answer, ‘It just felt right,’ this is the kind of thing you mean.”

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The tradition in question dates back centuries to an old German custom of keeping a Yule Log, often the entire trunk of a tree, burning throughout the 12 days of Christmas. While the intervening years leading up to last weekend’s ceremony have seen the log get considerably smaller, not to mention the deletion of other traditional elements such as an entire roasted pig and a ‘lord of the manor’ costume, the basic idea remains the same; cast your holly sprig into the fire, and in doing so, cast away your worries and concerns from the year before. The tradition was first introduced at the College in the 1930s. Before Mickel symbolically discarded her cares and woes in the Wren’s Great Hall, she had a role to play in the ceremony itself. Mickel represents Hillel, the College’s Jewish student association. In addition to providing information on Hanukkah, representatives of other student associations also shared with the audience the stories of Christmas, , Diwali, Ramadan and Kwanzaa.

Mickel said that the opportunity to speak at Yule Log on behalf of her group was something very special, “a chance to serve as representatives of Judaism to the whole campus.” She added that the cold rain did not dappen the spirits of those in attendance.

 “When someone suggested there would be a smaller turnout this year, I was baffled,” she said of weather concerns. “You don't miss Yule Log!”

Jess Benson ’14, was one of several hundred students who echoed Mickel’s sentiment, and braved the adverse conditions for an experience alternatively described as exhilarating, cleansing, and in Benson’s case, highly typical.

“I thought it was a very William & Mary experience,” she said, “and I thought that all the people who came out in the rain was a testament to how much people value the tradition and how much people value William & Mary. That’s why I decided to come here in the first place.”

Benson was just one member of a hearty corps of students who came out to hear the traditional reading of Ambler’s “Twas the night before finals” – albeit with updated verses to include mention of the Tribe’s new Griffin mascot and the football team’s recent number one ranking – as well as the William & Mary Choir and the Gentlemen of the College’s annual holiday mash-up. But as always, the centerpiece of the entire proceeding was a special reading of Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Old Saint Nick himself, whose resemblance to college President Taylor Reveley is simply uncanny. This year, Santa Claus treated students to an early holiday gift – it was announced at the ceremony that this year’s inaugural Charter Day concert would feature The Roots. The popular hip-hop group will perform Saturday Feb. 5 at William & Mary Hall.

Following the ceremony in the Courtyard, the assembled crowd filed, mass by mass, into the Great Hall of Wren, posing an interesting contrast. Outside the throng swayed and jockeyed rhythmically, chanting everything from “Oh Christmas Tree” to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” in an effort to stay warm and somewhat dry.

When the doors opened up to emit students into the ancient building there was a mad-dash composed of equal parts rabid enthusiasm and holiday cheer to gain entry. Such excessive excitement and good-will even swept one or two of the Tribe’s smaller members off their feet, carrying them up the stairs and into the warmly lit room, where, upon entry, the mood changed dramatically. It was calm inside, and almost peaceful, affording the students who had made it that far a moment of tranquility before they symbolically cast their worries away for a new year.

“I just burned my troubles, they are now gone,” said Paul Tucker ’12, grinning on his way to hot apple cider on the other side. “I always love being moved involuntarily in a large crowd of people. I look forward to it every year.”

Anna McCulla ’14 had similar things to say about her first Yule Log ceremony. “I thought it was a really worthwhile experience, and that’s really saying something because I’m terrified of crowds. So even though I waited out in the rain for a long time, and was crushed by a huge mass of humanity, it was worth it for the tradition.”

So there was rain. And cold weather. And what one student called a “super comfortable pack of sardines that’s really warm” pushing the assembled throng into the Great Hall of Wren. And yet Yule Log was just as bright, just as festive, and at times, just as peaceful as always.

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” ends with the residents of Whoville coming together to sing Christmas carols without packages, boxes, bags, or presents of any kind. “Somehow or other it came just the same,” writes Dr. Seuss. Even without roast beast, checkerboards, or a working umbrella, Seuss’s Whos still come together at the end to join hands and make merry. Yule Log is the same way. Somehow or other, it came just the same.