70 Years of Yule Log Lightings

Last year, when the current chaplains officiated at the Yule Log Lighting for our first time, we were pleasantly surprised to see how many people from the Stetson community and surrounding West Volusia have made it the ceremonial start to their holiday season. When we learned that this year’s Yule Log Lighting would mark 70 years of this tradition, we decided that we needed to do something to make it a little bigger this year.

The Yule Log Lighting is one of the university’s oldest traditions—if not the oldest one—and is a profoundly symbolic celebration commemorating the coming of light into the darkness. Yule is also one of our culture’s oldest winter traditions. Dating to pre-Christian northern Europe, Yule marks the time where the days stop becoming shorter and darker and begin to move toward light and warmth. Many of the world’s religions incorporate similar ideas into their traditions.

The bringing of light into the darkness symbolizes the religious quest—salvation, liberation, enlightenment, awakening. For example, in my tradition, Japanese Buddhism, we celebrate Bodhi Day on December 8. That marks the Buddha’s enlightenment. Beginning this past Sunday, Jews are celebrating Chanukah, the winter festival of lights, for 10 days. That observance includes nightly menorah lightings and special prayers. And of course Christmas is December 25, commemorating the birth of Jesus, bringing peace to the world. Advent, Diwali, and other religious observances mark the breaking of darkness with the light of spiritual realization.

Stetson’s School of Music had a great idea for this year’s Yule Log: a newly-formed Stetson Community Choir. The choir will debut at this year’s Yule Log Lighting, and hopefully continue to grace us with music at other events as time goes on. This year’s Yuletide season coincides with the 200th anniversary of “Silent Night,” so we will continue our tradition of joining together to sing the beloved Christmas carol.

Dr. Wendy Libby will give welcoming remarks this year, and Rev. Christy Correll-Hughes and I will provide a supporting role. However, the service will showcase the music and our students, with the remainder of the program revolving around stories and spiritual verses about the meaning of light in the students’ respective faiths and cultures.

To acknowledge the ceremony’s history, we began this year to collect video recollections, photos and the like. We will share these during the event with a very short video, but we hope that we will collect many more in the coming years so that, when the 75th Yule Log Anniversary rolls around, we will have nice documentation.

In its earlier years, students were asked to put candles in their residence hall windows during Yule Log Lighting. Current fire regulations (and concerns about safety) no longer allows for that. However, in a nod to the traditional history, we have asked residents of Chaudoin Hall to place battery operated candles in their windows, which overlook the Hulley Tower grounds on which the Yule log will be lit.

As in the past, the Yule log will be lighted and the audience will be able to cast sprigs of greenery into the fire to symbolize letting go of past burdens and moving into a new, bright future. We will all sing together and enjoy hot chocolate and cookies in front of the flagpole.

We hope you will take a break from your studies or other duties to share this tradition with us. We look forward to seeing you by Hulley Tower at 6:00 p.m. this Tuesday, December 4.