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W&M community gathers to celebrate Yule Log ceremony

  • Yule Log
    Yule Log
    The William & Mary Choir serenaded the crowd with holiday favorites at the time-honored Yule Log ceremony on Dec. 15.
    Photos by Stephen Salpukas
  • Yule Log
    Yule Log
    Students like the one pictured here made their way into the Great Hall on Saturday night to toss sprigs of holly onto the fire to symbolize casting their worries away.
  • Yule Log
    Yule Log
    The star of the evening was Santa Reveley, clad in the traditional red and white coat as well as a beard surely grown just for the occasion. He opened his well-loved copy of Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and delivered his much-anticipated annual recitation.
  • Yule Log
    Yule Log
    Students used the Yule Log to build a fire in the Great Hall. After the fire was ablaze, students threw their sprigs of holly onto the fire to symbolize casting away their worries.
  • Yule Log
    Yule Log
    Students from various faiths, such as Mohamed Aboulatta with the Muslim Student Association, shared their holiday traditions, including Christmas, Eid al-Adha, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Deepavali.
  • Yule Log
    Yule Log
    Vivian Cooper (left), president of Omicron Delta Kappa, and Lauren Stephenson, president of Mortar Board, welcomed the crowd and explained the origins of the Yule Log ceremony.
  • Yule Log
    Yule Log
    The Gentlemen of the College took center stage and regaled the crowd with their annual Yuletide melody.

A survey of the campus’s best study spots on Saturday evening would reveal piles of books left open, laptops hibernating with their chargers, and countless idles pens and highlighters, all with nary a student in sight.

As 6 o’clock approached, the owners of these study nests began to rise from their papers and whiteboards and stream to the Wren courtyard, where they huddled alongside hundreds of their classmates awaiting the start of William & Mary’s annual Yule Log ceremony.

{{youtube:medium|iFkmLR87ang, Highlights from the 2012 Yule Log ceremony.}}

Every student received a sprig of holly as they entered the courtyard, as well as a last chance to donate to the Hurricane Sandy relief coin drive, before finding a place in the throng—ideally a warm spot beneath one of the blazing cressets. The coin drive, which took the form of an inter-class competition, raised $176.60 during the last week of classes, a total the Student Assembly matched for a total of $353.20 plus whatever was collected at the ceremony itself.

The William & Mary Choir serenaded the crowd with holiday favorites as friends laughed and hugged one another, waiting for the event to begin.

Soon, Ginger Ambler, vice president for student affairs, took the podium and delivered a poem titled “‘Twas the Night After Finals,” describing notable events from the semester, such as Hurricane Sandy and the Dalai Lama visit, as well as campus changes like the expansion to the Sadler Center and the construction of new fraternity housing.

Following her were students from various faiths who shared their holiday traditions, including Christmas, Eid al-Adha, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Deepavali.

“There is good reason for the diversity that permeates our world. Each creed invites us to consider a different way to think of a creator who is far too great to be confined to anyone,” said Mohamed Aboulatta, a representative from the Muslim Student Association.

Sameer Garg, who represented the Hindu Student Association, described the tradition of Deepavali: “While Deepavali is popularly known as the festival of lights, the most significant spiritual meaning behind it is in the awareness of the inner light. Though the story behind Deepavali and the current-day celebrations vary from region to region, with fireworks, worship, bright lights, and sweets, the essence is the same – to rejoice in the Inner Light.”

The star of the evening, of course, was Santa Reveley.

President Taylor Reveley, clad in the traditional red and white coat as well as a beard surely grown just for the occasion, opened his well-loved copy of Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and delivered his much-anticipated annual recitation.

“Santa is going to read you – through his beard – a bedtime story,” Reveley announced before beginning his tale.

The crowd gasped and shouted the line ending rhymes along as Reveley described Whoville’s plight, culminating with thunderous applause as the Grinch learned that Christmas is all about coming together as a community.

After Santa Reveley finished his story, he declared that the class of 2013 won this year’s coin drive, an announcement that met with excited shouts from the seniors in the audience.

The Gentlemen of the College then took center stage and regaled the crowd with their annual Yuletide melody.

As the speaking parts of the ceremony concluded and the choir began singing the “Alma Mater,” the crowd rustled noticeably as students carrying the yule logs themselves navigated through the dense throng toward the Wren Building’s Great Hall, where they kindled a fire in the historic fireplace.

According to Vivian Cooper, president of Omicron Delta Kappa, and Lauren Stephenson, president of Mortar Board, who together explained the origins of the Yule Log ceremony, the Yule Log tradition most likely originated from Germanic tribes who burned the trunk of a Yule tree throughout the 12 days of Christmas.

Grace Warren Landrum, dean of women, first introduced the Yule Log custom to W&M in 1930, and from then until World War II, students carried out the ceremony in the style of a medieval Yule Log ceremony – complete with period dress – followed by an evening of festive dancing.

While Saturday’s ceremony lacked both medieval costume and dancing, students nonetheless jostled their way into the Great Hall to toss their sprig of holly onto the blaze.

Cooper and Stephenson described the significance of the tradition: “Each part of the ceremony has an allegorical meaning based on ancient superstitions. Thus, the sprig of green, symbolizing the woes of last year, is cast on the fire to banish those woes forever; to protect the house from ‘ghosties and ghasties and things that go bump in the night,’ wine is poured into the fire during the traditional blessing of the log. The ashes of the log are used throughout the year to continue to ward off evil.”

Brian Brooks ’16, eager to embark on his first Yule Log experience, remarked: “I’m really excited for Yule Log. I feel like it’s a great way to end the semester and from everything I’ve heard and what I’m seeing right now, it brings a lot of people together in a festive holiday spirit. It’s something we need near this final grind.”

Annie Kim ’13, alongside friends from her freshman hall, looked at last Yule Log with a different perspective: “We came here as freshmen and we came here as seniors, so it’s a lot of fun and it’s like a tradition together.”

As they filed out of the Great Hall, students picked up hot cider and cookies provided by dining services, savoring the time of fellowship with friends before heading elsewhere to continue the evening of merrymaking.

Or, perhaps more likely, back to those study nests in Swem. 

{{youtube:medium|cbk4WbSnsIs, William & Mary looks forward to the holidays.}}