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Firsts and lasts: A year to remember at Yule Log

  • Yule Log:
    Yule Log:  The annual Yule Log ceremony at William & Mary serves to celebrate the holiday season and mark the end of the semester.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Yule Log:
    Yule Log:  The yule log burns in the Great Hall, where students toss ceremonial sprigs of holly on the flames.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Yule Log:
    Yule Log:  A student tosses a sprig of holly onto the fire.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Yule Log:
    Yule Log:  Decorated paper doves adorned trees in the portico.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Yule Log:
    Yule Log:  Students gather in the Wren Courtyard for the Yule Log ceremony.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Yule Log:
    Yule Log:  Members of the Gentlemen of the College sing a medley during the event.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Yule Log:
    Yule Log:  A handful of potential future W&M students were on hand for the celebration.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Yule Log:
    Yule Log:  Students toss sprigs of holly onto the fire.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Yule Log:
    Yule Log:  President Taylor Reveley, dressed as Santa, reads "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Yule Log:
    Yule Log:  Throughout the ceremony, students gave speeches explaining international holiday traditions.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Yule Log:
    Yule Log:  A sprig of holly is tossed into the flames. The gesture is meant to symbolize tossing one's cares away.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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With the smell of hot apple cider in the air and the warmth of wood-burning cressets all around, William & Mary students, alumni and faculty packed into the Wren Courtyard on the evening of Dec. 16 for the annual Yule Log ceremony.

After finding comfortable spots amongst friends, neighbors and strangers alike, audience members clutched their holly sprigs and waited in anticipation for festivities to begin.

The Yule Log ceremony, which dates back to 1934, is an opportunity to bring students and faculty together. From yuletide carols sung by the W&M Choir to speeches highlighting the tradition’s history and diversity, the event offers a wide array of holiday cheer. 

{{youtube:medium:center|gU57hwVBwv8, Scenes from W&M's 2017 Yule Log ceremony}}

Sponsored by Mortar Board and Omicron Delta Kappa, the ceremony commenced with a few words of welcome from Kathy Hopkins ’18, vice president of Mortar Board, and Will Adie ’18, vice president of Omicron Delta Kappa.

“We are so excited that you have joined us tonight for an evening filled with the warmth and cheer of this holiday season,” Adie said.

Hopkins and Adie offered thanks to all who contributed to the Yule Log donation drive in light of the season of giving. Every year, the funds from the drive go toward a different charity.

This year’s recipient was Avalon of Williamsburg, which is a women’s shelter that works to end domestic and sexual violence by breaking the cycle of abuse through prevention, education, shelter and support services, Adie said.

Next, with a wide smile on her face, Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler came forth in her green and gold scarf to deliver her gift to the crowd—the yearly rendition of “Twas the Night After Finals.”

The recap brought about laughter, shouts and cheers as Ambler made reference to the opening of Richmond Hall, the 50th anniversary of W&M’s first African-American residential students, Lynn Briley, Janet Brown Strafer and Karen Ely, the disappearance of the Tribe Square restaurants and even how the “freshmen in Botetourt were glad for the light.”

Upon mention of the upcoming retirement of W&M President Taylor Reveley, however, the audience expressed their sadness and replied with shouts of agreement to Ambler’s sentiments that “we’re far beyond grateful” and “none else will ever read Seuss like you do.”

Keeping with the joyful spirit, Santa Claus made his appearance as the scarlet-clad President Reveley took to the podium to read his well-worn copy of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" for the final time.

As he turned page after page, students, alumni and faculty participated in the age-old Whovian story of the Grinch’s rotten deeds. Knowing the words by heart, the audience laughed and shouted as the story unfolded.

A surprise was in store for Santa as the story concluded with the Grinch himself carving the beast. Three children, or rather a few of his “favorite elves,” came forward and greeted him with a small gift of a miniature Santa.

Various cultural and faith-based organizations participated in the event, whether it was by decorating the paper doves adorning the trees on the portico or reading passages reflecting on the guiding principles of Yule Log: peace, gratitude and joy.

Members of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, the Muslim Student Association, the Catholic Campus Ministry, Hillel, the Hindu, Sikh and Jain Students Association and the Black Student Organization represented a few of these organizations, reminding all in attendance of the tradition’s true purpose as a night of reflection and hope.

“This year has been one of uncertainty and anxiety. Yet, here we are still, wrapped in our coats, standing with our friends and loved ones, looking for a little warmth and light,” Anna Internicola ’18 from Catholic Campus Ministries said. 

“As we look back through the year, there were moments of delight, where we shared joy and laughter with our friends. There were also moments when we stumbled,” she said. “It is glorious that love exists in times of cheerfulness. But, it is even more beautiful that in moments when we feel most defeated, people are all the more able to come together and to love one another. This season, I am thankful that no one stands alone, because it is in our interconnectedness that our love for one another is born.”

As the ceremony drew to a close, the Gentlemen of the College, an all-male acapella group, delivered their mashed-up holiday medley to joyful hearts, lifted spirits and cheerful grins. Then, the log-bearers carried the Yule Log into Wren’s Great Hall. Throughout the rest of the evening, students milled about in front of the Wren Building after casting sprigs of holly into the fire -- and with it their cares and worries.

For many like Reveley, this year was their last Yule Log as campus residents. Friends like Great Dylus ’20, Dale Lattanzio ’19 and Same Houmaoui ’18 shared in the joy of community and holiday spirit that the event offered.

“There’s something about it being a time-honored tradition,” Houmaoui said. “Coming out and seeing not just your friends who you come with, but seeing a majority of students that can attend. There’s something nice in knowing that we’re all doing it together.”

Evan King ’18 and Anna Lujan ’20 reflected on similar sentiments as they celebrated together.

“I think it’s a pretty neat tradition,” King said. “I think it really does bring the community together. I really like what they do to highlight the inclusion and diversity that makes the College a good place.”

As a transfer, however, the sense of tradition goes deeper for King.

“I came from a community college,” he said. “There were no real roots to make us all feel part of the same team.”

Having spent the last two years at W&M, Lujan agreed with King. 

“Tradition at William & Mary makes you feel a part of something bigger,” she said.