As a William & Mary student, Charles Fulcher ’99 regarded the Yule Log celebration at the historic Wren Building as one of his favorite university traditions. And as a tour guide with the Spotswood Society and later a proctor in the grand building, he enthusiastically educated visitors on the holiday custom.
That he is now back at the university helping the student organizers of W&M’s Yule Log celebration as the Wren Building’s director of operations and events is something Fulcher can only describe as “special.”
Yule Log is an annual holiday event where the university community comes together for festive music and singing; student reflections on themes of peace, joy and gratitude; the reading of special poems and stories and the tossing of sprigs of holly into the fireplace in the Great Hall for good luck.
This year’s event will be celebrated in person and via livestream on Saturday, Dec. 17, at 5:30 p.m. Additionally, regional Yule Log ceremonies are scheduled throughout December in locations around the country.
In recent years, students have created a new tradition of adorning trees in the Wren portico with paper doves, along with messages of gratitude. These messages of hope and gratitude can also be shared on Twitter and Instagram using the #wmYuleLog hashtag, or they can be submitted directly.
“Seeing a cresset lit warms my heart,” said Fulcher, who returned to William & Mary in October after working more than 14 years at Washington National Cathedral. “That may sound cheesy and punny, but to me it’s unique to Williamsburg. It just feels special.
“I loved gathering with the student body and friends and knowing that we would sing, that we would have a fire; it’s the shared communal process and ritual that I think can really make strong memories.”
As director of operations and events at Wren, Fulcher manages all aspects of operating the building. That includes coordinating with Facilities Management and Colonial Williamsburg on building preservation, as well as scheduling and managing events and selecting, training and supervising staff and students who work as tour guides.
Yule Log is one of Fulcher’s first major events in his new role. He has collaborated with students and staff to prepare the building for the big day.
“It’s a little surreal in some ways. Surreal but nice,” said Fulcher, who proudly wears his W&M class ring with the Wren Building etched on the side. “My professional career directly sprung out of my experience in this building, and now I’m back preparing for this special event I used to tell visitors about on my tours.
“To talk with visitors about students tossing holly sprigs onto the fire and casting away the cares of the past year, everybody wants to do that. Everybody wants to let go of something and move on with hope and anticipation to the coming year.”
The students of Omicron Delta Kappa and Mortar Board leadership honor societies sponsor Yule Log each December. Planning for this year’s ceremony was led by Vice President of Mortar Board Abigail Hartless ’23 and Vice President of ODK Sarah Larimer ’23, with the support of Vice President of Student Affairs Ginger Ambler and Chief of Staff Greg Henderson.
Yule Log requires two-pronged execution by Facilities Management – which hangs the wreaths, prepares the fireplace and sets up cider and cookies for 1,000 guests, courtesy of Sodexo – and the audio visual team that arranges the key elements for the presentation, which includes a poem reading by Ambler and a story reading by President Katherine A. Rowe.
Following the presentation, the yule log is carried into the Great Hall by students and placed into the fire. Visitors then stream in to toss holly sprigs into the lit fireplace.
“It’s such a wonderful time of gathering and affirmation,” Ambler said.
And it’s a time of joy for Fulcher, who is delighted to be back working at his alma mater. After graduating from William & Mary, Fulcher earned his Master of Arts in Teaching in museum education from The George Washington University before embarking on a career that included positions at the International Spy Museum and the National Law Enforcement Museum.
But his most extensive work came at Washington National Cathedral, where he was most recently director of visitor programs, managing all touring and sightseeing functions of the world’s sixth-largest cathedral.
“That’s where I cultivated so many professional experiences that have better equipped me for this work,” Fulcher said. “I’m really excited that I’m able to bring a skillset and a toolbox that I did not have as an undergrad.
“It’s a place that feels so familiar, with the opportunity to engage the public in a place I love, but to build on that, to look for ways to innovate, to consider what it really means to represent the university, I’m really struck by the sense of responsibility and the duty that comes with that. It’s not just a job.”
Nathan Warters, Communications Specialist