The subject, my mother, and I were getting coffee for breakfast and I asked her if she could tell me some stories about her childhood. The subject’s father (who has recently passed away) was a history professor in the Midwest. The family moved frequently because of this, which made it difficult for them to settle in a single area for too long. The subject’s mother was a stay-at-home mother; she also has four other siblings. The subject’s parents were both the children of Norwegian immigrants and emphasized the value of hard work and wise spending habits. The tradition of giving special foods or sweets as gifts is interesting because it reflects the family’s emphasis on not valuing material goods over kindness. The tradition of wrapping their birthday presents in comics is also a reflection of the family’s income level and how fiscally conservative they were in order to have enough money to send all of their kids to college.
“When we had birthdays we—my mom we didn’t have a lot of money first of all, so my mom would just get stuff that we could share ‘cus she wanted to teach us that we could share our gifts. So they would give us candy like licorice, cashews, Andes mints, or sometimes a box of sugar cereal—like cookie crunch or something like that—‘cus we usually didn’t get sugar cereal so we would get, like, candy or something like that that we could share and we could keep it in our room, but after dinner we would have to bring it out and share and the birthday person would bring it out and, um, it was always wrapped in the comic section from the Sunday paper which was always colorful ‘cus my mom didn’t want to spend money on wrapping paper that would be ripped off and thrown away [laughs] so it was always wrapped in the comics.”
Throwing friends into the fountain on the day of their birthday has been a prank tradition for the span of several decades, and has become a birthday ritual for students at the five Claremont colleges. It is even noted on Claremont McKenna College’s website that the fountain at Flamson Plaza is a site that students visit to either study or to throw their friends into on their birthday.
On the day of a friend’s birthday, it is a common tradition to throw that friend into a specific fountain at Claremont McKenna College. The fountain is located at Flamson Plaza and is in the middle the Claremont McKenna College campus. It is common for students from all five of the Claremont Consortium schools: Scripps College, Pomona College, Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College, and Claremont McKenna College, to engage in this tradition. When it is a student’s birthday, friends of that student often barge into the student’s bedroom early in the morning, physically carry them over to the fountain at Flamson Plaza at Claremont McKenna College, and throw the student into the cold water as a sort of wake up to their birthday. When interviewing a friend of mine who was thrown into the fountain last year during her freshman year of college, she said that it was definitely one of the highlights of her time attending Claremont McKenna College. She said that this tradition was very unifying in the fact that this was a birthday ritual that was specific to the Claremont Colleges and made her feel that she was a part of the college community. My friend stated that even though this is a small tradition, it has a large impact on how an individual relates to the community at the Claremont Colleges and reaffirms the fact that a student’s friends care about them and want to celebrate their birthday.
Throughout my time at Scripps College during my freshman year of college, I found that this was a specific tradition that peaked my interest. I would constantly see people being thrown into the ice-cold water of the fountains at Flamson Plaza and think that is was very entertaining. I would often think that it looks very entertaining to someone watching, but must be relatively burdensome for the student being abruptly woken up and thrown into the cold water in the morning of their birthday. As such, my friends at Scripps College knew that I did not want to be thrown into the fountain on my birthday and always joked that they would throw me into the fountain but never did, to my relief!