… Holly!” Because it’s Yule Log celebration on campus! This Saturday, 14 December, will see the Wren Courtyard jammed to capacity with happy hearts, joyful song and glowing fire. Our Tribe community gathers to end the school year with lighter hearts and hopeful wishes for the New Year. It’s tradition! Filled with song & stories, the celebration ends with the lighting of the Yule Log in the Great Hall fireplace, and each person tossing a sprig of holly into the fire. As that holly stem burns, current worries go up in smoke & good luck and good wishes are released, leaving every person feeling lighter.
Holly sprigs are ready!
Lighter? Guess who cuts & carries all those holly sprigs? Our team in Grounds & Gardens does – this year about 4,500 sprigs in total. We start cutting in November to supply Alumni programs across the country. Holly sprigs from the “motherland” here on campus are shipped or carried as far as Seattle, WA for this W&M tradition to continue into folks’ careers. The biggest Alumni program, with 200 holly sprigs on order, was close to home in the DC and northern Virginia area. The latest, slated for 5 January 2020, will be in Portland, OR.
Where does it all come from? From American Holly trees, Ilex opaca, here on campus. For the past 2 years we’ve been harvesting from the Alumni House, knowing the trees were destined to be removed for the building expansion. (Not even holly stumps there now!) The Bryan Complex has 2 nice holly trees along the Jamestown Road wall, Kaplan Arena hollies needed pruning a few years back, and for 2019 we took major limbs out of the hollies behind Yates. Our Arborist crew fulfilled a work order for Yates this week, for “limbing up” trees. “Limbing up” removes the lowest branches and stems, creating better visibility and security around buildings. Just happens some of those trees where Ilex opaca. Win-win!
Almost 4,500 sprigs for 2019!
From standing trees on campus, the ones not threatened by building or bulldozers, we look for hollies with good “berry set.” “Berry set” is horticulture lingo for lots of green berries and heavy stems, maturing to bold, red color. No berry on your holly sprig = NO LUCK! And we all need good luck, good cheer and a restful season as the year ends. So, when you’re casting your sprig into the fire, wishing for fortune and fame in 2020, take a minute to admire the efforts of your Grounds & Gardens Tribe.
Until the last holly berry burns, we’ll be minding the cressets (for fire safety so close to the beloved Wren,) pruning summer flowering trees and shrubs on campus for form and shape – not to harvest berries, raking the oak leaves (still falling!) and making firewood out of downed trees for warmth and light. Cheers to us & here’s to a lovely winter celebration!