September 22, 2019 | 85° F

100th annual Yule Log Ceremony at Rutgers celebrates diversity of winter holiday season

Photo by Catherine Nguyen |

 Since 1927, the Yule Log has been celebrated in Voorhees Chapel because of the increasing amount of students enrolling in Douglass Residential College. Elizabeth Rodman Voorhees donated the money to build the chapel in 1925. 

Voorhees Chapel was filled with Douglass students and alumni Sunday night for the 100th annual Yule Log Ceremony, a tradition to welcome the spirit of the holiday season. 

The first Yule Log was held in College Hall in 1918, when students from the New Jersey College for Women — now known as Douglass Residential College — were asked to burn a yule log and light a tree in front of the building, according to the pamphlet provided at the event. While gathered in College Hall, the students held candles and sang songs while the yule log was placed in a ceremonious fireplace. 

The tradition has continued every year since, but in 1927 the location of the ceremony was moved to Voorhees Chapel because of the increasing number of students at the women’s college, said Sonia Khalil, the program coordinator of the Yule Log.

“College Hall became too crowded,” she said.

This year’s ceremony began with songs sung by the Voorhees Choir. Some of the songs were traditional holiday favorites that everyone in the audience sang along to, such as “Deck the Halls,” while other songs reflected winter holidays celebrated in other countries, such as “Carsko Momce Kon Sedlae,” a Bulgarian carol arranged by singer Lily Storm. 

Lined along a staircase in front of the chapel’s pews, were "stair seniors," volunteer Douglass students in their final year at Rutgers. Between songs, they read excerpts from various cultures. Some of the readings included lines from the Rig Veda, the Quran, the farewell statement for Kwanzaa and the Bible. In keeping with tradition, they dressed in white robes and wore wreaths on their heads to represent light.

While many traditions from the original Yule Log remain, the songs and readings changed over the years to become more inclusive and reflect the diversity of the Douglass community, said Brandon Williams, the Voorhees Choir Director. The Yule Log was not only representative of Christmas, but also other festivals and celebrations that occurred during the winter season. 

“I chose songs to fit with the readings they do,” he said.

Students also participated in the ceremony as torch or log bearers, ushers and fire lighters. According to the event pamphlet, these students help to carry on the traditions of kindling the yule log fire and lighting the candles throughout the chapel, creating a more inclusive community at Douglass and Rutgers. 

The last song to be performed during the ceremony was “Auld Lang Syne,” which Williams said was a classic they did every year. After the ceremony, guests were able to continue the celebration with a dessert reception held at the Kathleen W. Ludwig Global Village Living Learning Center. In honor of 100 years of Douglass, each guest was also given a candle as a gift.

Lori Zabrodski-Gregor, a Douglass alumna who graduated in 1982, said she never attended a Yule Log ceremony, so the 100th one was her very first. Being back at Voorhees Chapel was also significant for her because it was where she married her husband, who was also a Rutgers graduate. 

“(The ceremony) was extraordinary,” she said. “It gave me chills, it was beautiful.”

Catherine Nguyen

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