Yule Log Kindles Holiday Cheer

Photograph: Stan Leung.

The Yule Log tradition at Columbia will continue this holiday season with a fervor not seen in many years.

"We're going to carry it for three hours instead of a half hour," said Stan Leung, a College senior who has escorted the Yule Log for three years and wants to make his final year special for him and for Columbia. "We're going to break into buildings. We're going to disrupt classes. We're going to go anywhere where there might be a large number of undergraduates."

This means that on the afternoon of Dec. 7, Columbians should be on the look-out for the Yule Log and its bell-ringing heralds in Revolutionary dress. President Rupp is scheduled to join the band of heralds shortly before 6:00 P.M. and accompany them from Low to John Jay, where the log will be lit during a holiday ceremony.

This year's Yule Log heralds, in addition to Leung, will include seniors Christopher Holst CC'96, David Lin CC'96 and Matthew Pedley SEAS '96, and underclassmen Josh Golomb SEAS'99 and Zita Peterlin CC'98. All are members of the Blue Key Society, which sponsors the Yule Log event.

The honored readers at this year's ceremony will be professors Calvin Lancaster and David Dinkins. It is open to the entire Columbia community.

"It's a very nice cozy thing," Leung said. "The Yule Log is a unique opportunity for students, administrators and faculty to come together in a non-academic setting."

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 tradition of the Yule Log at Columbia dates back to pre-Revolutionary War times, in the first decades of Columbia's founding as King's College. The ceremony was revived in 1910 by University President Nicholas Murray Butler to provide holiday cheer for students who could not go home to their families. Because of this tie to colonial times, the Yule Log heralds dress as Revolutionary soldiers. Over the years, the costumes evolved from the scarlet of British officers to a more patriotic and Columbian blue.

The tradition of the Yule Log ceremony is steeped in Columbia history: The poem A Visit from St. Nicholas (which begins with the famous words, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas") is read at every Yule Log ceremony and was written by a member of the Columbia College class of 1798, Clement Clarke Moore.

The log itself is three feet long and decorated with red berries and greenery. Leung says it is heavy.

"We get tired of carrying it," Leung said, but noted the six heralds can switch duties of log carrying and bell ringing.

This year the Blue Key Society will announce the creation of an annual award recognizing outstanding dedication to Columbia. It will be the Berril E. Gold CC'65 award. Gold was a Blue Key Society member.

Leung said, "We felt it was very important to emphasize a person's dedication to Alma Mater."

Columbia University Record -- December 8, 1995 -- Vol. 21, No. 12