Keeping the Yule Log Tradition Alive

Students gather around the burning Yule Log during the Yule Log ceremony.

As far as Stetson Chaplain Morris Sullivan can determine, the university has celebrated the Yule Log Lighting to start the holiday season every year since 1948.

portrait
University Chaplain, Sensei Morris Sekiyo Sullivan

But this year – with the pandemic and a condensed fall semester — students and faculty will have already left campus before the Dec. 1 ceremony. Still, he and others in Stetson’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life were determined to find a way to observe one of the university’s oldest traditions.

“The first thing I thought was we don’t want to be the people who didn’t have the Yule Log,” said Sensei Sullivan, a Zen monk and Buddhist minister. “The story is it has been a continuous thing since 1948, when J. Ollie Edmunds arrived as president.”

The celebration traces its origin to pre-Christian northern Europe and coincided with the period when the days grew longer after the winter solstice. At Stetson, the ceremony has featured readings from different cultural and religious traditions, as well as holiday carols, hot chocolate and cookies.

Dean Etter Turner and President J. Ollie Edmunds, in formal attire, prepare to light the Yule Log.
Stetson President J. Ollie Edmunds, in formal attire, and Dean Etter Turner prepare to light the Yule Log in 1965, when the ceremony was held in front of the Carlton Student Union building. Later, the ceremony was moved close to Hulley Tower. Photo: Stetson University Archives

For this year, Hillel Director Sam Friedman suggested celebrating on Instagram, posting short video clips about the Yule Log ceremony. The Stetson and DeLand communities will be encouraged to join in and “Show us how Yule celebrate,” tagging the office on their Yule season messages.

On Tuesday, Dec. 1, Sullivan will post 30-second to 2-minute clips on the office’s Instagram and Facebook pages, including ones of the Yule Log lighting and throwing holly sprigs into the fire to let go of past burdens.

In other videos, President Christopher Roellke, PhD, will talk about the tradition. And Sandra Peter, DMA, acting director of Choral Activities in the School of Music, will record two choral selections, “Sing for Justice,” and “Oh, Be Swift to Love.”

And Rajni Shankar-Brown, PhD, Jessie Ball duPont Chair of Social Justice Education and executive board member of the National Coalition for the Homeless, will share an original poem, “Glowing Embers,” that she hopes will serve as a reminder of “our shared humanity, the power of beloved community and the importance of civic engagement.”

bonfire ablaze

Sullivan and a few others plan to light the Yule Log bonfire one evening this week on campus, toss in holly sprigs and record the event on video. The staff in Facilities Management actually lights the fire each year, saving a piece of the log from the previous year to go into this year’s fire. 

Sullivan would like to invite others to the bonfire, but that is not possible with Stetson’s health and safety precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic. For this year, it will have to be celebrated virtually.

“It’s a favorite event for a lot of people,” he said. “I wanted to keep it going and so did the rest of us.”

To see the Yule Log celebration, follow the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life on Instagram or like them on Facebook. For questions, contact Sullivan at msullivan1@stetson.edu