This past Saturday hundreds of students gathered in the cold December air that filled the Wren Courtyard just after sundown for what many described as the crown jewel of William & Mary traditions. The annual Yule Log ceremony, which takes place on the Saturday between two weeks of winter finals gives all parts of the college community a chance to relax, come together, and, for an hour or two, to throw away their troubles and concerns, both literally and metaphorically.
In a ceremony which dates back more than 75 years at the College, Yule Log attendees were given a sprig of holly to brush on the eponymous log as it passed through the assembled throng and into the Great Hall of the Wren Building. The crowd then followed it through the doors -a rather tight fit which was said by some of the Tribe's smaller members to have lifted them up and carried them- where each person got to throw their holly on the now blazing log, symbolizing the passing of this year's cares and a clean rebirth into 2010.
First time Yule Log attendee Ben Lauer '13 said he was quite taken by the event, remarking that it was "a wonderful tradition that I enjoyed very much my first year here at William & Mary... and it was a very nice way to celebrate the season." Why is that? "Everyone came together for a little bit." he said "I got to listen to one of my favorite stories, got to throw a sprig of one of my favorite bushes into fire, which is always a favorite. It was just really wonderful."
The festivities were kicked off by Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler's original rendition of ‘The Night Before Christmas,' entitled ‘The Night Before Finals.' The substitution of blue books for sugar plums and other such editorial updates elicited cheers and laughter from the crowd, which was clearly both very cold and very excited.
Following Ambler's tongue-in-cheek remarks a series of elected speakers from various student diversity and religious groups took to the podium to share what this time of year means to them and the various cultures they were there to represent. Allison Mickel ‘11, who spoke on behalf of Hillel, said that she relished her special role in this year's ceremony.
"It's interesting to be someone from one of the multi-cultural groups because it really helps you realize that even though Yule Log has holly and it's sort of a Christian thing, in the end it's something that's so unique to William & Mary that it brings everyone together," Mickel said. "We all feel equally connected to it."
Andrew Gardner ‘12 shared Mickel's sentiments on the community aspect of the ceremony, saying of his "favorite of the traditions at William & Mary" that "it's a way for us all to get together one last time before the semester ends, to see people, to see friends, to get together and share what we plan on doing over break and how we celebrate the season."
After the student speakers came the traditional guest appearance by Santa Claus, who this year greatly and curiously resembled William & Mary President Taylor Reveley. Saint Nick's reading of ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas' as always never failed to invite smiles, laughter, and some good-natured if uninvited audience participation. After the reading of the "Grinch," came the traditional holiday music mash-up by the student a capella group, The Gentlemen of the College. And finally, the main event of the evening -- the Yule Log itself was paraded through the crowd and into the Great Hall where the scores of attendees waited patiently with a healthy dose of holiday cheer for their chance to follow it inside and throw their worry bearing holly into the historic building's fireplace. Yet for all the joviality, the shivering, and the thoroughly good-natured pushing and shoving outside, the mood inside was peaceful and reflective. Serenaded by the Gentlemen, the members of the Tribe strode reverently through the old building, pausing one by one to reflect on their personal sprig of holly by the blazing Yule.
Outside the holiday spirit once again reigned supreme as the crowd filed out of the Wren Building and onto Historic Campus where the universally much anticipated hot cider was waiting beside an ample supply of sugar cookies. Reflecting on the ceremony, Mickel said "I really enjoy Yule Log... I think it's really cool that we can all get together in the winter and realize all the things we have in common and take a break from being TWAMPs [an acronym standing for Typically William And Mary Person] and from studying for finals and get to throw things in the fire." And while she said that she enjoyed her role in making the evening's festivities a reality she added with a smile that "I guess all of us at William & Mary should feel that way because it takes everyone to be there to feel like it's Yule Log."