EVENTS CHRISTMAS Bringing in the Yule Log

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 16: EVENTS
CHRISTMAS Bringing in the Yule Log

Christmas card from Bessie Wallace, the artist [?]. “Laurel House fireplace, 1932.” [neff_vennie_017]

CHRISTMAS Bringing in the Yule Log

TAGS: Christmas at PMSS, Christmas traditions, yule log, The Pine Cone, Conifer, Mummer’s Play, The Wassail Song, Nativity Play, Dr. Ida Stapleton, Ethel de Long Zande, Christmas Pie, caroling, Christmas candle-lighting, Christmas Party, Open House Day, wreath-hanging, minuet

During the boarding school days at Pine Mountain Settlement School, celebration of the Christmas season was the most joyous, Students, staff, and many in the surrounding community worked together to present the traditional sequence of events. The program began with caroling, the girls’ Christmas candle-lighting ceremony, and the ritual of Bringing in the Yule Log. Anticipation of Christmas Day grew on campus and in the valley as other activities took place, varying only slightly from year to year. Among them were the humorous Mummer’s Play and the solemn Nativity Play in the Chapel. When Christmas Day finally arrived, the students enjoyed a Christmas Party complete with gifts from Santa Claus.


The earliest mention of the Yule Log in the PMSS archives was in a December 1928 report to then-Director Ethel de Long Zande from Dr. Ida Stapleton, who was the medical doctor at the School’s extension, Line Fork Settlement, from 1926 until 1937. 

The dining room was so lovely with laurel garlands along the balcony and tiny trees on each table. The grand tree in the angle near the great fireplace in which a huge yule log had been placed. Surely never in any medieval castle was there more space for a log. It took Mr. Browning (the manager of Pine Mt farm) and four husky boys to get that log back in place.

The 1928 Yule Log ceremony was also described, with additional details, by Ethel de Long Zande in a letter to trustee Darwin D. Martin, dated January 6, 1928 (page 2):

This was followed by [wassailers] and waits from the Boys House, bringing the Yule Log and opening the Christmas Pie, which contained balloons and paper streamers for all the tables, and then came Santa, announcing himself with a storm of peanuts, confetti and balloons from the balcony.


The Yule Log tradition was still going strong in the 1930s. A February 1936 issue of The Pine Cone, a PMSS student newsletter, listed Christmas Week events, including Open House Day (each of the students’ houses were open for visitors), the Nativity Play, plays by each house after supper, candle-lighting, bringing in the Christmas tree, Mummer’s Play presented by the Far House girls, and laurel and wreath-hanging.

“To climax all, the Yule Log made its appearance on Friday night. It was carried aloft by the boys of Boys’ House who sang as they came, ’The Wassail Song.’” This was followed by a pantomime of an 18th century lord and lady’s dinner and a minuet. Later, a farewell party was held at Laurel House that included Santa Claus ”and before going home everybody gathered around the big fireplace to sing Christmas Carols.”


An article in the 1941 Conifer, a PMSS student literary publication, (page 13), quoted a student’s impressions of the first year of Christmas celebrations in the newly re-built Laurel House II

 “It was hard to tell that the minuet dancers were students and not true English lords and ladies, especially with the Yule Log in the fireplace, the garlanded balcony, and Boys’ House English Christmas ballads.” 

Also, a poem on page 30 of the same issue, titled “We Came To Pine Mountain,” mentions the Yule Log in this excerpt:

…An old English Christmas – our first one.
Living again in the times of Dickens, Irving, and Bracebridge Hall.
The good cheer of Open House
Gifts and adoration at the Nativity Play
The hushed expectancy of the candle lighting
The ivy garland and The Holly and the Ivy
From Far Away We Come to You bearing the tree
Coins for the Mummers
A little lad astride the Yule Log
The joyful wassailers, the stately minuet
Noel, Noel, re-echoed through the valley in the frosty morning.
Home for a Christmas we had already observed….


Melvin Coots wrote a first-hand account of bringing in the Yule Log in the December 1947 issue of The Pine Cone.

We get ready and wait downstairs in Laurel House for the rest of the school to get seated for supper in the dining room. Then we march upstairs carrying a Yule log which is used on the fire during Christmas, with the smallest boy among all the rest sitting on it. After it is lowered and the boy is off he joins us and we all, still singing our song, gather around tables which are reserved for us and enjoy our supper, knowing it isn’t long till we go home for Christmas vacation.`1


Once the boarding school closed in 1949, these Christmas traditions, with the exception of the Nativity Play, largely fell away. Yet records and photographs of those celebrations live on in the  Pine Mountain Settlement School Archives. They are also held dear in the hearts of those who had experienced the Christmas season at Pine Mountain.

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CHRISTMAS at Pine Mountain Settlement School GUIDE