It’s Christmastime in Williamsburg
November 30, 2007
p. Williamsburg and the College know how to do Christmas right, with fireworks, truckloads of evergreen, charity and tradition — lots of tradition.
p. Every year, students returning from Thanksgiving break anticipate the best kick-off of the Christmas season. One of the most popular events in Williamsburg, Grand Illumination, held on Duke of Gloucester Street, draws thousands of people to the city to see a Christmas fireworks show of colonial-era splendor.
p. The show itself — running for the 50th time this year — is one-of-a-kind.
p. “We use fireworks that are really in the spirit of the 17th-century tradition,” Michael Fox, vice president of Pyrotecnico, a Pennsylvania-based fireworks company and lead tech for Grand Illumination, said. “We tailor the show to something you could [have possibly seen] at that time, historically.”
p. This means creating a visually stunning show rather than a loud one, consisting of so many fireworks that even the company can’t count them. Fox also understands the historical importance of the show’s location, and is working hard to make sure that both the holiday decorations — and the buildings they decorate — stay intact.
p. “You’re shooting right beside something that would be very difficult to replace,” he said. “It’s a very difficult situation.”
p. The difficulty of creating the Grand Illumination show is mirrored in the behind-the-scenes creation of a colonial Christmas on DoG Street. Strolling up the street a few hours before the fireworks will reveal a town transformed by fresh holly, traditional fruit wreaths and miles of fresh evergreen adorning the windows and doors of homes and shops. Christmases of the yore are perfectly and painstakingly recreated for tourists and students, all in the name of a traditional holiday season.
p. The warmth of the holidays and love of tradition are just as important on campus as they are on DoG Street. For over 20 years, the College has hosted Green and Gold Christmas, an event that embodies the ideals of the season in a day of charity, generosity and fun. Underprivileged children in the Williamsburg area are invited, free of charge, to the College for an early Christmas.
p. Randi Lassiter ’08, chair of Green and Gold Christmas, hopes to spread holiday cheer.
p. “I just really love Christmas, and I don’t want to see kids not be able to have a good Christmas,” she said. “It’s not that all the children won’t have a Christmas, it’s just that maybe their families are financially strapped. All of them are from underprivileged backgrounds.”
p. The morning of Dec. 8, hundreds of children will gather in the University Center, bright with anticipation and energy, to be matched with a waiting student. For the next four hours, the kids are the bosses; the college students get to be a little kids again. Christmas cookie decorating, arts and crafts, toys, Santa and an enormous inflatable obstacle course make this a day that the kids will remember throughout the next year.
p. “They really enjoy it,” Lassiter said. “I just hear from a lot of parents, ‘When is Green and Gold Christmas coming up? My kids want to know.’ It’s really a serious thing; the kids will ask about this months in advance so their parents will make sure they can come.”
p. Being a student chaperone can be tiring, but it is immensely rewarding. And the best part? “The blow-up obstacle course,” Lassiter said. “People need to sign up. This is a really great cause and I think that people will have a lot of fun. They shouldn’t focus on exams coming up, just come out anyway.”
p. Another popular exam break comes in the form of one of the best-loved holiday traditions at the College. Nothing says holiday cheer — and halfway through exams — quite like the Yule Log ceremony, which will take place Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. Students gather together with friends in the dark chill of the Wren Courtyard to remember all of the good things about the College and the holidays — friends, tradition, carols and community. In the spirit of the season, several student organizations come together to tell the story of the holidays for their respective religions, including Hillel, the Persian Student Organization, the Black Student Organization and others.
p. “I really like the Yule Log Ceremony,” Lassiter said. “It just makes it feel so official; the holidays are really coming up. It just has that almost-going-home feel. When Yule Log comes around, it just really feels right.”
p. Brooke Tortorella ’08, vice president of Mortar Board, the organization that co-sponsors the ceremony with Omicron Delta Kappa, couldn’t agree more.
p. “I’m a senior this year, and I wanted to be involved in something that was more traditional to William and Mary,” she said. “I thought this was a good opportunity to do that. I mean, I love Yule Log. Everybody does. It’s fun.”
p. Mortar Board and ODK also try to foster the spirit of seasonal giving by conducting a coin drive during the week leading up to Yule Log. This year, the money collected will go to Bright Beginnings and the Academy for Life and Learning, which benefit public education in Williamsburg-James City County for underprivileged and long-term suspended students, respectively.
p. This marks the 77th year the ceremony has taken place, and it promises to capture the spirit of the holidays once again. Whether it’s the carols sung by the choir and the Gentlemen of the College, Vice President for Student Affairs Sam Sadler’s reading of “’Twas the Night before Finals,” College President Gene Nichol’s Santa suit and retelling of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” or throwing a sprig of holly onto the Yule log for good luck in the coming year, there’s something about the ceremony that draws students every winter and creates memories of holiday traditions that will endure for years.
p. “I really just think it’s kind of nostalgic to be thinking, ‘Oh, next year’s my last semester,’” Tortorella said. “I’ll definitely miss William and Mary and all the traditions, so I’m really happy that I got to be a part of the event you kind of feel like you left your mark in a way, in something more traditional than just taking class. It’s meaningful, I think.”
p. That meaningfulness abounds here at theCollege. At a time when finals can make even the most avid Christmas lover a Scrooge, long-held and beloved traditions, along with a good dose of generosity and charity, can take the chill out of the air and restore cheer to the weary student.
p. “When I came back after Thanksgiving, I peeked into Williamsburg and all the trees were decorated, and that was nice to see,” Tortorella said. “It kind of lifts your spirits.”