William & Mary’s annual Yule Log ceremony brings the campus community together to celebrate the holidays and reflect on the year. These photos, taken by University Photographer Stephen Salpukas, showcase some of the highlights of this year’s event. For more, visit the Yule Log website. – Ed.

Hundreds of members of the William & Mary community gathered at the Wren Building on Dec. 16, 2023, for the university’s annual Yule Log ceremony.

Hosted by Mortar Board and Omicron Delta Kappa, the event serves as a celebration of the holiday season and an opportunity for reflection.

“Yule Log is meant to be a space in which everyone can feel welcome and reflect on our themes of peace, gratitude and a sense of belonging,” said Meghan Kirk ’24, vice president of Mortar Board, before calling for a moment of silence. “We know the tumult in our world has deeply hurt people both internationally as well as in our William & Mary community.

“To all members of our Tribe that are hurting, we want to tell you personally that we hear you, we recognize your pain and we are here for you. Our organizations hope that our gift to you through this ceremony can be a space for respite and bring a sense of peace and belonging especially because of the conflicts in our world.”

Yule log ceremonies stretch back to medieval times when German tribes carefully selected log to be burned on Christmas Eve with remnants from the previous year, according to the student organizers of this year’s event. The tradition spread to Scotland, England and — later — America.

The Yule Log ceremony at William & Mary was started in 1930 by the dean of women. It was discontinued during World War II and revitalized afterward. Now, the ceremony serves as “a welcomed break between finals, and an opportunity to gather in the holiday spirit with friends and appreciate diverse religious customs,” said Kirk.

Multiple student groups participated in this year’s event, including representatives from several religious and cultural organizations who shared traditional prayers of peace prayer from their respective faith traditions. They included Catherine Freemon ’24, the Canterbury Association; Sarah Ibrahim ’25, Muslim Students Association; Sam Rubin ’24, W&M Hillel; and Divya Sharma ’24, Hindu, Sikh and Jain Students Association.

Musical performances were also a significant part of the ceremony, with such students groups as the Gentlemen of the College, the Wham Bam Big Band, Passing Notes and the Cleftomaniacs performing along with the Barksdale Treble Chorus and William & Mary Choir — both of which are celebrating 100th anniversaries this year.

This year also serves as the start to William & Mary’s Year of the Arts, which seeks to “amplify the crucial importance of arts education in the 21st century and highlight the vital role that the arts play in all facets of W&M’s educational experience,” according to its website.

Administrators from the university were also invited to participate in the event.

Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler read “T’was the Night After Finals,” which is her own take on the classic, holiday poem. And W&M President Katherine A. Rowe read a “surprise” story, selected from recommendations made by students. This year’s selection was “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats.

As the ceremony neared its conclusion, two logs were carried through the crowd and into the Great Hall of the Wren Building, escorted by traditional “criers” who called for people to make room. Once inside, the logs were set ablaze.

A long line of students and others streamed into the Great Hall afterward, with each person eager to throw a sprig of holly onto the fire — a gesture meant to symbolize the casting away of troubles from the previous year and beginning of a new year.

Those waiting for their turn enjoyed cookies, hot chocolate and hot cider while also admiring paper doves decorated by students and alumni.

Alumni chapters around the world now celebrate regional Yule Log ceremonies each year from their respective areas, with this year’s stretching from New York City to Los Angeles.

Those without access to such events were encouraged to participate in the campus ceremony from afar by trying some of the historic recipes listed on the Yule Log website, accessing other available digital downloads or simply watching the event online.

, University News & Media