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University Celebrates Holiday Traditions

Rabbi Ian Shaffer of Columbia/Barnard Hillel addresses the audience during the Yule log ceremony.
Credit: John Smock

Hundreds of Columbians turned out on Dec. 1 to participate in the traditional Yule log and tree-lighting ceremonies. The history of the Yule log has its roots in medieval Scandinavia, where lighting a log was a pagan celebration of the warmth and spirit of the season. The events included remarks from leaders of several religious faiths.

At Columbia, the tradition dates back to pre-Revolutionary War times, during the first decades of Columbia's founding as King's College. Because of the tie to colonial times, the Yule log heralds dress as Revolutionary soldiers. After lapsing for many years, the ceremony was revived in 1910 by University President Nicholas Murray Butler to provide cheer for students unable to return home for the holidays.

The tradition is enhanced by the annual reading of 1798 College alumnus Clement Clarke Moore's poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, also known as 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.

President Bollinger illuminated the trees along College Walk, while Notes & Keys, the Kingsmen, Pizmon and the Clefhangers performed and the wind-whipped crowd warmed up with apple cider and chestnuts.

Students and faculty braved biting winds to attend the tree-lighting ceremony.
Credit: Diane Bondareff

On Dec. 7, the campus welcomed Chanukah by kindling a giant "can-norah"a 10-feet-tall menorah made out of more than 1,000 cans of food. The weather was equally squalid.

A task force of engineering students devised the complex design of the can-norah. A wide range of student groups, including sororities, fraternities, political groups and Community Impact, collected the cans over several weeks to demonstrate the holiday's message of triumph of freedom over oppression and light over darkness. After the kindling, the food was donated to the Food Bank of New York City. Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields participated in the lighting ceremony.

The story of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, dates back more than 2,100 years and recalls the Jewish people recapturing the Temple of Jerusalem from the Syrian Greeks. Tradition held that a flame be lit in the temple and that it not be allowed to extinguish. But there was only enough oil to keep the flame lit for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted eight days. Today, the menorah is a symbol of hope and religious freedom.

Published: Dec 20, 2004
Last modified: Jan 10, 2005

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