Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Touching the Fire

Main Piece
I don’t know how it started, but every year during homecoming, the freshman are in charge of building a big bonfire in the center of the green at Dartmouth, and you run around it for as many years of your graduation year, plus 100 now because it started in the 1900’s, so for example for my 2018, we were supposed to run around 118 times, but usually we just ran around 18 times. The upperclassmen would stand on the outside and like, jeer and stuff. So every year, something they want the freshman to do is to touch the fire, it is like a sign of being cool, like if you touch the fire, because its dangerous or whatever, and even now the police surround it, because they really don’t want people to do it, so it is really hard to do. So like, every year, all the upperclassmen scream “touch the fire! Touch the fire!”, and at least one person will do it every year. So this year, they even put a chainlink fence around the fire, but people still hopped it and touched it. And you are known for the rest of your Dartmouth experience for it.

Background
The informant attended Dartmouth University in Hanover, New Hampshire, where she learned this story. She learned of this through experience and action, although she never personally touched the fire. She heard of the change this year through her college friends.

Context
The informant is a 23-year-old women, born and raised in Southern California. She attended Dartmouth up until last year, having graduated in 2018. She provided this information while sitting outside her family home in Palm Springs, California on April 20th, 2019.

Analysis
I love this tradition, but really am saddened to see institutions destroying traditions in the name of social progress or “safety”. I mean, it makes sense that the university wouldn’t want students touching a bonfire, for their own safety, but also that the university doesn’t wanted to leave itself open to a lawsuit. I just think they should not endorse the tradition, but not forcefully try to stop it! I love how enduring traditions are when they are held by a large group of people – even though the school is trying to stop the students, they have not been able to. With a university as old as Dartmouth, it makes complete sense that they have a lot of long-term, enduring traditions. I also love how legendary you become after taking part of the tradition – if I attended Dartmouth University, I would be sure to try my best to touch it! The continuation of this tradition in verbal form allows the informant to interact back with her own experience in the tradition, keeping it alive in her mind, but also in the world by passing it on.

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