Hundreds of William & Mary students emerged from their textbooks and final papers to gather at the Wren Courtyard Saturday night.
Bundled up in scarves and clutching sprigs of holly, they were ready to cast away their worries at the annual Yule Log ceremony, a tradition that marks the end of the fall semester.
The students huddled around wood-burning cressets, laughing and hugging friends as the William & Mary Choir sang familiar holiday songs like “Deck the Halls” and “Silent Night.”
Vice President of Student Affairs Ginger Ambler read “‘Twas the Night before Finals” amid cheers, calling out familiar student experiences like Wawa runs and camping out in Swem for finals, as well as events marking this semester, like the earthquake, Hurricane Irene, and registration woes.
Students of various faiths shared their holiday celebrations, such as Christmas, Eid al-Adha, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Deepavali.
“It brings me great happiness to welcome this holiday season in the presence of the great tapestry of faiths that is the William & Mary community,” said Adrienne DePaul ’12, who spoke on behalf of the Muslim Students Association.
“The various speeches explaining each of the holidays that each of the different religions celebrated was a nice way to include everyone in the festivities,” said freshman Bindu Sagiraju, who will “definitely be attending next year.”
The star of the show was College President Taylor Reveley, who arrived dressed as Santa Claus and gave a rousing rendition of Dr. Seuss’ book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Students cheered at his arrival, recited the familiar story along with him, and punctuated the tale with chortles, gasps and cheers as Reveley told them how the Grinch tried to stop Christmas by stealing all of Whoville’s presents and their feast, only to find out that Christmas is about coming together as a community, not presents and feasts.
The Yule Log ceremony is believed to have originated from Germanic tribes, who would burn the trunk of a Yule tree to last the twelve days of Christmas. The first William & Mary Yule Log ceremony was held in 1934, complete with College President John Stewart Bryan dressed as the lord of the manor and freshmen dressed as serfs carrying the yule log.
While the students carrying the yule log into the Great Hall no longer dress as serfs, students still made their way into the Great Hall on Saturday night to toss sprigs of holly into the fire to symbolize casting away their worries, before picking up some hot cider and cookies.
Sam Meadows ‘12, who has attended the ceremony every year since she was a freshman, admitted that this particular Yule Log ceremony was “bittersweet” as she lined up to make her way into the Great Hall and toss her sprig of holly.
“I think it’s a great thing to have everybody come out,” said Meadows. “This is the one thing during exams that brings us together.”
A couplet in Ambler’s “‘Twas the Night before Finals” described the mood of the event the best: “We stand strong together to celebrate happily, diverse people united, one Tribe, one family."