One of the most beloved traditions of William & Mary took place on Saturday night among the burning torches, mittened students and caroling choir. Dating back to the early 20th century, the Yule Log ceremony brought joy, singing and storytelling to the Wren Building, with a few new twists.
Mortar Board and Omicron Delta Kappa organized yet another merry ceremony for the William & Mary community. The event bought together faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members and featured the highly anticipated Yule Log debut of President Katherine A. Rowe. It also raised money for Lafayette Kids, a student organization that provides mentorship and tutoring to children in the Lafayette Village neighborhood.
The William & Mary Choir kicked off the evening with classic carols, filling the courtyard with song. Vice President for Student Affairs Virginia Ambler delivered her classic poem, “Twas the Night Before Finals.”
Representatives from cultural and spiritual groups, including InterVarsity, Hillel, and the Hindu, Sikh and Jain Student Association, among many others, delivered personalized messages from their respective groups, detailing the significance of the season for each individual group.
“Yule Log is probably one of my favorite William & Mary traditions because it’s a time where students come together and share their traditions and beliefs,” said Chrisney Pettit ’21.
A new president yields new traditions. Ushered in with uproarious applause, Rowe took the stage in a red Santa hat with leopard-print trim.
“I am so thrilled to be here with you for my first Yule Log ceremony,” she said.
She took up her task of telling the William & Mary community a story, page by page, as practiced by the previous president, Taylor Reveley. Although he traditionally read “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” in her inaugural year Rowe read “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats.
“I began to appreciate that she brought her own traditions to this celebration,” said Pettit. “I loved that President Rowe was able to continue being a part of Yule Log without trying to mimic previous presidents’ traditions.”
Kicking off a potential new tradition, Rowe led a sing-along to Frozen’s “Let It Go,” symbolizing the beauty in actually letting go of stress and woes from the year.
“It was so cool to hear everyone sing together, and it was such a positive and wholesome part of the night,” said Abby Minor ’19.
The Gentlemen of the College, an a capella group, rounded off the evening with its own jovial version of the “12 Days of Christmas.”
With all of the speeches, songs and stories delivered, the William & Mary Choir led the attendees in the Alma Mater while the yule logs were carried through the crowd and into the Great Hall of the Wren Building. Once the logs were ablaze, members of the campus community filed through to toss sprigs of holly onto the fire.
The Yule Log tradition began in 1934 with the 19th president of William & Mary, John Stewart Bryan. Each year, logs are found on campus to be used in the ceremony, building an even greater connection between the tradition and the William & Mary community.
More than 2,500 sprigs of holly — representing the woes from this year and potential new beginnings of next year — were cut for the students as well as almost 2,000 more sprigs for alumni celebrations throughout the country.
The Yule Log ceremony is one of the older, yet most-loved, traditions of the university. As recognizable as the Crim Dell Bridge or the tune of the Alma Mater, Yule Log holds a great significance for many students, from those experiencing it for the very first time to those celebrating their last as a student.
“For me as a senior, it’s about reflecting on the year and my past years at William & Mary, remembering all of our traditions and how they’ve changed during my four years, but also how I’ve changed,” said Minor.