The two “stars” of this year’s Yule Log ceremony came from humble roots – when they had roots, that is.
The logs, William & Mary arborist Matthew Trowbridge said, were found on the south side of the scoreboard outside Busch Field, 40 yards or more deep in the woods. Trowbridge and assistant Bob Chretien ventured out there following a storm about a year ago and liked what they saw.
They were about four feet long. They were approximately eight inches in diameter. They were of a pedigree – oak and hickory are paramount – that would burn hot, but also last the 45 minutes to an hour that the annual ceremony takes.
“We’ve never had a problem finding a Yule Log,” Trowbridge said. “We’ve got 1,150 acres of land, and we would never take down a tree to do this.”
Trowbridge and Chretien transported the logs to a shed in the maintenance complex of the campus and hoisted them onto the top of a shelf, under a heating vent, to help with the “curing” process.
On Dec. 14, a tradition dating back to 1930 and introduced to the College by Dean of Women Grace Warren Landrum will be renewed in the Wren Courtyard. Students will huddle near 10 blazing cressets – eight inside the courtyard, two just outside of it -- filled with “fat wood” (contains turpentine) to keep warm. Entering the courtyard, they will receive a sprig of holly from the six bushel baskets cultivated from campus just for them.
The William & Mary Choir will serenade the crowd with holiday favorites. Vice- President of Student Affairs Ginger Ambler will deliver a Tribe-centric version of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” After that, students from various faith groups on campus will share their holiday traditions, including Christmas, Eid al-Adha, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Deepavali.
Then it’s time for President Taylor Reveley, decked out in a Santa suit, to recite, as only he can, The Grinch That Stole Christmas. The Gentlemen of the College perform and the logs are carried through the courtyard and into the fire waiting inside.
Who gets the honor of presenting the logs? Two sponsoring student organizations with reputations for scholarship, leadership and service – Mortar Board and Omicron Delta Kappa – vote on which of their members will hoist the logs.
“I’m like a mom or dad when I watch this part of the ceremony,” Trowbridge said with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘Don’t drop that log; that’s heavy on your foot.’”
As they walk through the courtyard, students will tap the log with their sprigs then follow the procession into the Great Hall where they can toss the holly onto what is by then a blazing fire – in essence, discarding their worries.
“Very little about it has changed since I’ve been here,” said Ben Owen, the university’s nursery/greenhouse supervisor, who is preparing for his 18th Yule Log event. “It’s just become a tradition.”
A mile or so from the main campus, another, simpler tradition, will have occurred earlier that day. The nursery crew, including Jennifer Jones (the creator of elegant, 40-foot garland “snakes” that beautify the bannister in Reveley’s house) Chretien, Trowbridge, Owen and others will sit down to bowls of homemade chili delivered by Owen’s wife.
Jones has two sons, as does Chretien. They join the group, not only helping to load the cressets with the fat wood but cutting the holly as well.
“It’s like a holiday event for us also,” Owen said. “It’s a lot of fun. We usually get here at about 1 in the afternoon, get the fat wood and prepare the cressets. We’ve done it for years. We’re all sort of like a family, and this really has become a tradition. We haven’t missed one yet.”
Meanwhile, another tradition is growing by leaps and bounds -- alumni chapter Yule Log ceremonies. This year, more than 770 holly sprigs cultivated from campus will be distributed to 23 chapters from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. In addition, the W&M Alumni Association is sending 1,000 paper doves to these events so that alumni can further participate by adding their messages of thanks and peace for the New Year.
Alumni Association staff members, who already have collected the holly used at Richmond and New York events and brought it back to campus for the 14th, will collect the doves at chapter Yule Log ceremonies and add them to the campus Christmas tree. The Association also is collecting the paper dove messages of alumni throughout the world via social media through postings to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using #wmyulelog.
In case you were wondering, the Yule logs for 2014 have already been identified and are resting comfortably at the greenhouse/nursery complex.