Author Archives: Janice Kitchen

New Year’s Tradition

“Pop-Pop whose uh yeah was Grandma J’s father when he was uh…uh I don’t know he was uh he was definitely a child uh his—his father had him jump, uh get up on a table and and jump at at midnight when the new century, you know the year 1900 happened. And so so when when the year 2000 happened you know we were in Santa Barbara and that’s where we jumped off the uh th-th-the water breaker there and that’s where Henry’s friend you know turned his ankle or whatever. [collector interjection: “Oh, yeah, I remember that”] Yeah bu-but it was it was like we were jumping into the new century uh like Pop-Pop had. He always would talk about that so—so that’s sort of like a family story.”

My informant tells this story every year on New Years Eve, December 31st, before the clock strikes midnight, chiming in the New Year. He tells this story both to remember the positive family experience in the year 2000 and also to remember his Grandfather fondly. When he presented the tradition to his family in 2000, he hoped that by practicing the tradition his family would feel connected to their past. He also sees the tradition as an expression of excitement for the New Year. He says that the family participates in the tradition at the turn of the century, rather than every New Year, because this is a heightened moment of excitement; the future and the positive changes it can bring feel larger in this moment than any other New Year. Younger members of his family, however, have expanded the tradition and now jump off of tables every New Year’s Eve, when they are all together.

I agree with my informant that the jumping off of a table at New Year expresses excitement for the year to come. I only add that it also reflects a future oriented perspective. The family’s intense excitement for the future, as symbolized by the jump, and their movement forward suggest a desire to move into the future because it will be better than the past. The tradition does also unify the family members, which might explain why the younger members who live far away from each other participate in the tradition every year.

Casmir Pulaski Day

“So I come from a town, it’s not even really a town, you can really refer to it as a village if you want. [Collector: Laughter. Okay.] No I’m serious, I’m pretty sure that’s like what our like legal like status is but we say like town. Um but it’s the village of DuBois umm and we’re pretty much like the (pause) I mean I can’t say that everyone there is Polish but like the majority of them are Polish Catholics. [Collector: Okay. And you’re Polish?] I’m Polish and I’m Catholic. So yeah. Umm well actually like my family’s very big into like Catholicism and like the and that like our Church and our town like thing so um and like we’re the ones who like pretty much the town is run by our church. That’s not to say that we um but anyways you know what I mean like it’s such a small town so our Church runs it. But like but we’re the ones that put on the Polish Fest. So umm it’s kinda like a town thing it’s so big. [Collector: And does the festival have a name?] Umm Casmir Pulaski Day that like it’s it’s and it actually umm it’s a holiday in Illinois, the state of Illinois, like it’s not across like the country it’s like kids get off school in Illinois. Like you get off like on Pulaski Day. So um it’s short term: Pulaski Day. Like not Casmir Pulaski Day but Pulaski Day. Umm and the colors you wear red and white so you wear red and white obviously um and that’s also the flag of Poland is red and white. So that’s why. Umm but it’s basically like this guy, Casmir Pulaski, was like in Poland and, don’t quote me on all of this, but I’m trying, umm it’s like in Poland and then he like was a General and then he like was a General and like um he was like uuh (pause) like good at it over there but then I can’t remember for some reason he had to leave. And then he, it was during the time of the Civil War here in America, and then he ended up getting umm like he heard about what we were doing, here, like not we but you know what I mean. Anyways, what America was doing and he like (pause) I was about to say emailed. (Laughter) [Collector: Laughter.] He sent a message to (Laughter) [Collector: Laughter] he sent a message to um uhhh whoever was in charge, I guess it was Lee or umm [Collector: Are you talking about the Union or the Confederacy?] I think it was [If he’s Illinois it was the Union so.] So then it wouldn’t’ve been Lee it would’ve been Grant. Whoever. Whoever was in charge there you might want to look that one up, sorry. Umm but he did that and then umm ended up coming over and working for them and he actually was like the first so he fought during the war and he was the first one to have a cavalry of, see I want to say he worked for the South (pause) because he was the first one to make like a unit of like mm—like instead of it being like militia men that was just like them working together he made the first like he like was like give me the like the go ahead to like make my own little army and he did and they were the ones that like you can look it up but there’s a lot of stuff on what they did like they did a lot of like. (pause) They did a lot for the war. I can’t remember, there’s specific battles and stuff but like we don’t really pay attention too much to that stuff cuz that’s like the history of it. But we get to celebrate the day. And that’s like a Polish figure in like you know modern American so that’s why we like it. But umm.

But yeah it’s a holiday in Illinois. And you get off school and works you know like the government’s stuffs closed, like the post office, it’s like any Federal Holiday. Umm yeah and then we just on Sunday we have a parade. And then we have like umm our Church puts on like a meal that’s traditional like Polish food. [Collector: Oh cool. What are some of the things in that meal?] Like parogies, umm like Polish sausage, and just like a bunch of that and then the desserts are like crazy just like so many like pies it’s not even funny. The food’s kind of gotten a little more Americanized like over the years but yeah. I think we’re like I think we’re in the (pause) 18th annual (pause) or 19th annual, cuz it’s not every, I mean this came in like the eighties or when it was um it’s a more recent holiday. It hasn’t been like for-ever. Ummm. [Collector: Do you know why it started in the eighties?] (Pause.) No. [Collector: That’s okay! Just curious.] Umm and then (pause) Yeah that’s a good question I don’t know that. Umm and then so then [Collector: Can we talk about the parade a little bit?] Okay but I was going to say but the other the first thing that you do is like the main thing the main festivities are the Mass and then the Food and then the Parade. Those are like the three main things. The Mass is done in umm it’s—it’s they’ve done it before where the entire Mass was in Polish but it’s really hard to get a priest who can speak Polish soo umm we’ve got so we don’t do that as often but there’s we have um garments that umm that are um native Polish um like um like wear like. I’ve been the Polish Boy three times where you cuz there’s a man costume and er um er a male costume and a female costume and then two people walk up and they’re basically just like to represent like the Polish heritage or something but they’re really cool they’re really like very detailed, embroidered like they’d be worth money but like. [Collector: What do they look like?] They’re red and like I don’t know if I could I don’t have any pictures on me I don’t think and my mom doesn’t have any digital ones but I can probably help you like look one up online and show you if you want. [Collector: But could you just describe it?] It’s like it’s uh I’m trying to think. There’s a hat and it’s kinda looks like you like the Shriners? It’s like their hats it kinda looks like that and it’s got like a tassel on it thing too and then it’s like a bigger like white shirt kind of like bigger like the sleeves are bigger and it has a vest umm and then the pants are like (pause) they’re kind of bigger they’re kinda like not MC Hammer pants but like (pause) kind of. And then umm I don’t think they’re shoes at least we don’t have them and then it’s just like and then there’s a vest and just like very detailed like and it all matches like it’s like yeah and the girl’s is like it’s like a corset. Like it’s g—like a pale green and it’s like corset up the front and then like tie and then like a white thing here (points at chest) and then like the skirt thing very like stereotypical (Laughs) but like it’s got like the stuff in it where it’s like [Collector: Like the tool?] Yeah. So it’s like that very stereotypical like that one. Umm. [Collector: And so is there any sort of like stigma around being getting to wear the costumes?] Umm [Collector: Or do you like have a specific role in the Mass?] In—as the child, they don’t want to, because, I never wanted to because I just like I don’t know I liked going to the Mass but I didn’t like wearing the big costume because normally it was too big for me anyways and I just looked so stupid and I didn’t look yeah anyways. But the parents, on the other hand, having their children do it, their in—now that is more of a like umm “honor” like thing. So to the parents, yes. But not to the children. The children don’t really care. Because when you’re—when you’re young you have to be like in between like it was probably like 8 to like or maybe like 7 to 11 maybe that range and at that time kids don’t really like give a shit. So. Umm but yeah. And then, then you do the Mass. And then all of the songs are definitely in Polish. (Pause).

Umm and then you go to the Food usually, and then it’s that. And then the Parade. And the Parade is usually, it’s not so much like (pause) Polish like stuff by the Parade is more like the modern thing like it’s like the candy, they have candy, and then there’s the tractors. There’s usually a before the parade there’s like a tractor show and then cuz um and then uh then all the tractors go through the um Parade um and there is a lot of alcohol, obviously, I mean it’s a parade. Umm. And then there’s also like other food vendors like outside there that are kinda like selling more like (pause) umm like funnel cakes and like that kind of stuff but that one’s more commercialized but like umm (pause) Let me think.

[Collector: Um and do you guys, for the meal, where is it and who goes to it?] It’s in our Church. Umm like the school our old school it’s in like the cafeteria like in the big like so it’s and it’s completely packed. All the time. Like (pause) there’s always a line out the door like I mean and it’s usually family like all like families like whole families will come, all of the old people always go. Umm. Younger people we usually like (pause) For me, my family like me and all my friends we were I was in the crowd that like ran it. So I could just like walk in and grab food and go like I didn’t have to like wait in line so I’m not used to that I don’t really know. Umm but I would always just like go in grab some food and then head out and like go to my friend’s house and chill and then like go to the Parade and like it’s just kinda like an all-day thing. Cuz then what ends up happening is umm (pause). Like after the Parade is over, the families go home and then the then the local bars (Laughter) really pick up. And that’s when the more adults like party. But yeah. [Collector: And so in the Meal do people generally eat with their family or with their friends or is there any sort of rhyme or reason to that?] Most of the time, it’s with your family if you’re out of town like if you’re coming from outside of our like small town that runs it but if you’re running the festival then you eat with your friends. Because your parents are all working like the back. But for people who come in, yeah, it’s like definitely a big family thing but not many people eat that food on a regular basis and they just like do it and it’s family style. So like there’s waiters and waitresses like my mom runs the kitchen whereas my dad is a runner. Like runner you know they take the plates to the like the, you know what family style means, right? [Collector: Could you explain it?] It’s where like cuz you have like cafeteria style where they come through a line and you like put it on a plate but this is family style, where it’s like like there’s a bowl of corn on each table, a bowl of mashed potatoes on each table, because it’s like you’re sitting as like a family passing cuz you know what I mean? As opposed to like getting up and getting it yourself or getting only one plate. So. Yeah. So it’s like all you can eat.

[Collector: Okay. Um and so that’s all Sunday, is there anything then on Monday? Or is that…?] Umm. Normally that’s just like recouperation day. Umm but (pause) noo I don’t think so. (Pause). No, I don’t think we do anything on Monday. We get the day off, most of the time. Except sometimes they like to like if we have too many snow days or something they’ll be like “Nope. You have school.” But I don’t like that. And then we have shirts too. But those are like, you’ve seen my Polish shirt, right? No. Oh, it’s just like, I mean it’s like it’s got it always has like the emblem of like Poland, and then it always like the two people dancing. I should take a picture and send it to you! Um it has two people like dancing then it’ll have like some saying in Polish or like just like and like a picture of the country and stuff. They—they have new ones every year. So that’s cool. [And is this uh a big source of revenue for your town?] Umm not really our town, but our Church. But yes, it’s our biggest event all year because it’s like our town is 200 people but all together like mm—like not a million, god, exaggeration much, umm uhh let me try to give you like an actual round-about number. Um (pause) I would probably say (pause) throughout the day like the amount cuz like nobody comes like some people come for like the Meal, some people come for the Parade, some people come for all of it, so they might not be there the whole time. Uumm. (pause). But a lot of family, like distant relatives will come out and like stay with family I know that umm but I would say (pause). My town’s 200 people and I would say there’s at least probably like (pause) uh I don’t want to overestimate but I’m wanting to say like 5,000. 3-5, let’s say 3-5,000. Cuz it’s really cuz like the streets are packed. That’s all it is. And that’s really honestly why the bars and places cuz they’re open and people can go in because they’re aren’t any other like restaurants in my town. The only things we have that you can go in and like sit down or like do something is the bar and the Church, like where you can eat. So you’re either like walking around outside, like at the Parade route, cuz like the whole town is pretty much the Parade route so I mean you can like walk and you like talk to people you haven’t like seen in forever and like cuz like that’s why I go plus it like brings all of the counties together. So people that I went to like grade school with that went to like different high schools and stuff so that’s why I love it, it’s a social event.”

My informant sees Pulaski Day as a reflection of his “heritage.” He believes that his town celebrates the festival as a way to go back to their “roots” and be proud of their history, while getting to party. He says that the festival unifies the town and gives the residents a chance to display their immense pride in being Polish. Additionally, on a practical level, he thinks the town will continue to host the festival because the Church and the bars make a lot of money during that weekend. I agree with my informant that these are many of the main reasons that DuBois, Illinois puts on the Casmir Pulaski Day festival. Given the size of his town, about 200 residents, and when the town began hosting the festival, in the 1980s, I believe that the festival also reflects a desire in the town to connect with a larger community. In the 1980s, with the development of the computer and the mainstreaming of television, the world started to be more and more connected. As residents of DuBois saw a larger outside world, they may have wanted to bring some of that world into their town. With a large Polish population in the Illinois area, having a festival that celebrates this common identity would connect DuBois with 1000s of people from outside of the town. The festival also relies on cultural customs from outside of the town, and even outside of the country; they use traditional Polish costumes and sing in Polish during the Mass. The general theme of the festival, Polish-American pride, suggests that the participants wanted a more global identity, even while they reinforce and establish their own local community. The festival is a social event that allows the residents of DuBois to express pride in their local identity while connecting that identity to a larger community.

Nigerian Proverb

“When the lizard falls from the tree, if no one praises it, it praises itself.”

According to my informant, lizards in Nigeria often quickly bob their heads up and down, a motion that looks like a mix between a head nod and a bow. This gesture, in Nigeria, implies self-congratulations and makes the lizard look as if it is continually praising itself. Lizards, however, are not seen as intelligent creatures. My informant says that they try to jump from tree to tree, but more often than not they miss the trees, and land on the ground. After taking this embarrassing tumble, the lizard gets immediately to its feet and begins bobbing again, seemingly praising itself.

My informant first heard this proverb when he was very young. Generally, the proverb is used to talk about someone who is not present, although occasionally children will say it to tease each other. In most situations, people use this proverb to chastise someone indirectly for being unnecessarily arrogant. My informant says that the proverb refers to people who think highly of themselves, even if no one else does and even when they fail, just like the lizard that fails when he doesn’t reach the second tree. When someone praises or congratulates themselves and that praise is undeserved, someone else will say this proverb to a third person. My informant believes that proverb means that arrogance is blind, and cannot tell the difference between a praiseworthy act and something unworthy of praise.

Chinua Achebe records a variation of this proverb in his book Things Fall Apart. At the beginning of the book, the main character, Okonkwo, needs help with his yam crops. Unlike most young men in his Nigerian village, Okonkwo has never been able to rely on his father to provide food for the family, and cannot ask his father for yams to plant. Instead, Okonkwo always had to work for himself and provide for his family, even as a young boy. In the third chapter, Okonkwo decides to ask one of the other men in the village for some yams on loan, rather than rely on his own father. Before presenting evidence to prove his own worth, Okonkwo says, “The lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did,” (1994: 21). He then continues by praising himself, saying, “I began to fend for myself at an age when most people still suck at their mothers’ breasts,” (1994: 21).

While my informant’s version of the proverb and the proverb in Things Fall Apart use the same image, a lizard praising itself after jumping from a tree and landing on the ground, the implications of these proverbs directly contradict each other. For my informant, praising oneself is a consequence of arrogance and thus a negative quality. Okonkwo, on the other hand, must praise himself because he has no one else to vouch for his dependability, and thus no one else will praise him. These different usages stem from one of main verbs in the proverb: “falls” versus “jumps.” Whereas “falls” implies that the action was unintentional and thus a failure, “jumps” implies intentionality and success. Perhaps, then, my informant’s proverb criticizes undeserved praise, rather than general arrogance.


Achebe, Chinua 1994 Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books, A Division of Random House, Inc.

Rape Steps, Tufts University, Onomastic

“The Rape Steps”

“Someone made it their project, I don’t know if it was an engineering student or what, but basically they wanted to design a set of stairs that would be easier for a woman to climb up than a man. Something about a different gait length, or something, I think it’s bullshit. They’re really obnoxious to walk up. Essentially, people race up them, but every time the guys won. So either they’re very poorly designed or some giant conspiracy. They’re called the rape steps because they don’t actually work. They’re supposed to prevent rape, but since they don’t work, the name works either way.”

Samantha and I were walking back to her dorm at around 1:00 AM after buying French Fries at an off-campus pizza shop, when we came upon “The Rape Steps.” “The Rape Steps” are built into a hill and, despite their awkward length and height, provide a short cut between the Tufts University campus and Boston Avenue in the town of Medford, Massachusetts. Trees surround the steps, creating a dark, secluded pathway, although a campus parking lot and streetlights are visible. As we climbed “The Rape Steps,” I questioned Samantha about their ominous title, and she responded with the above story. The story left me slightly freaked out, and a little nervous about the man we had seen a little earlier walking alone. Samantha, however, was not fazed by either the incident or the name of the steps.

The next day, Samantha and I again went down the “The Rape Steps” to get into the town. Since I am relatively short (about 5 feet and 2 inches tall) and Samantha is relatively tall (about 5 feet and 11 inches tall), we decided to test out the theory behind “The Rape Steps.” Running down the steps, we were both able to keep a quick, steady pace, with neither girl outrunning the other. As we ran past a group of students walking up the steps, we overheard them laughing and gleefully saying something similar to “do you remember when we tried out the Rape Steps?” Between that experience and stories that Samantha has told me, “testing out the Rape Steps” seems like a fairly common practice at Tufts University.

The steps do not have an official name, so Samantha believes that the name arouse out of necessity. According to her, the steps are an important landmark on the campus, and first-year students learn the name “Rape Steps” shortly after arriving on campus. She does not remember when she first heard the name or the story, but does not believe that there was a specific context, such as at night, in which students first learn about “The Rape Steps.” She thinks that the title itself is an ironic one, implying that women are more likely to get raped if they are near these steps than other places on campus. The steps are seen as a “failed project,” since it is commonly accepted and proven through trials that the steps are not easier for women than men to run up. In fact, one online compilation of “Tufts University Urban Legends” claims that, “an empirical study will show that men can run up these steps twice as fast as women.” The name, Samantha believes, reflects Tufts’ students’ expectation of excellence, or at least competence, and the humor produced when the University blatantly does not meet those expectations.

Looking at variations in the legend surrounding “The Rape Steps,” reveals an additional explanation for the onomastic. In an article for The Tufts Daily a female student wrote about the “usability” of the steps, or the lack thereof, as an escape route for female students. While the article itself aligns with Samantha’s explanation of the creation of “The Rape Steps,” an alumnus responded to the article with a different creation story. The alumnus stated that when he or she attended Tufts University, an engineering professor had told him or her that an engineering class, as assignment, designed the steps to “[conform] to the contour of the hill.” For the purpose of this collection, it does not matter which story is “correct” or “the truth,” but dominance of the title “The Rape Steps” despite contemporary legends about the steps that are not connected with rape or assault suggests that the onomastic may not have resulted from the steps intended use, but rather their actual use. Samantha told me about the steps at a time when fear of assault, sexual or otherwise, was reasonable. Despite the steps benign quality during the day, the name “The Rape Steps,” and the legend that goes with it, might also reveal a legitimate fear that female students at Tufts University might feel when using the steps late at night. As they do, for example, when coming back to campus from off-campus parties, where the likelihood of sexual assault is also higher. The name does allow Tufts students to identify a landmark easily, but it may also reveal an unspoken of fear that female students at Tufts feel.

Annotations: 2011 Tufts University: Tufts Urban Legends., accessed April 28, 2011.

Birch-Desai, Jaya. The Tufts Daily. 2009 Engineering Psychology and the Rape Steps., accessed April 28, 2011.

Renn Fayre

Renn Fayre is Reed College’s large end of the year festival. It begins on the Friday of the last day of classes for the spring semester and continues through the weekend until the beginning of the Reading Week (a week after classes end and before finals begin that is designated for preparing for finals). The tradition of the festival began in the 1960s and for many years had a Renaissance theme, but the contemporary festival has a different theme every year. A group of students, called the Renn Fayre Czars, are responsible for planning the entire festival. They reveal the theme for the festival in the fall semester, generally at a school sponsored event with many students in attendance. The Renn Fayre 2010 theme was unveiled during a dance at the Student Union. The Renn Fayre Czars positioned themselves on a balcony above the dance floor and projection screen. Amidst fog and strobe lights, they projected a movie onto the screen that consisted of a montage of scenes from movies that took place in outer space, while the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme played as background music. Throughout the showing of the movie, there was an intense atmosphere of excitement; students yelled, cheered, and clapped at the beginning and end of the movie, and maintained a respectful silence during the movie’s duration. Once the movie concluded, a student in a full space suit walked across the balcony. Finally, the Czars unrolled a sheet over the projector screen that said that year’s Renn Fayre theme: The Final Frontier. The crowd roared.

Weeks, and sometimes even months, before Renn Fayre, students begin planning costumes. Costumes during Renn Fayre 2010 included characters from the television series The Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek, various interpretations of aliens, and anything with metallic material or that looked somewhat futuristic. Also in preparation for the festival, students can volunteer online to be part of the “Border Patrol” or the “Karma Patrol.” As part of the “Border Patrol,” students take shifts walking along the borders of campus to ensure that no one without an official Renn Fayre bracelet comes onto the campus. If someone without a bracelet is found, the “Border Patrol” students will either escort them off of the campus, or call the Community Safety Officers, Reed College’s security team, who will then escort the unauthorized visitor off of the campus. Students on the “Karma Patrol” walk around campus with water and bagels to give to students, with the hopes of preventing over-intoxication. The “Karma Patrol” also seeks out students who may be dangerously intoxicated and escorts them to the temporary White Bird Clinic on campus, where the student in danger can receive professional medical attention. Both positions are regarded with high respect, and many students see it as their responsibility to volunteer. Few students will graduate from Reed College without having volunteered at least once for one of the positions. Lastly, in preparation for Renn Fayre, a website is created that counts down to the beginning of the festival. On this website is a link to volunteer for either the “Border Patrol” or the “Karma Patrol.” These links are written in small font, and on the very bottom of the web page. Except for the links, the only thing written on the website is “Renn Fayre T-00:00:00” in the center, in big font, counting down until the kick-off event: The Thesis Parade.

Thesis Parade begins in front of the Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library. The parade is meant to celebrate and congratulate the Senior students for completing their thesis projects, which they have worked on since the spring semester of their Junior year and throughout their Senior year. Everyone wears their costumes to Thesis Parade, and the Seniors also wear “laurels.” The “laurels” are headbands made of plastic gold leaves that Seniors receive from the registrar when they hand in the final draft of their thesis paper. Often, if a Senior hands his or her thesis in early, that student will wear their “laurels” in the week leading up to Renn Fayre. Since theses are not officially due until 5:00pm on the Friday of Renn Fayre, the Thesis Parade is the first time that all Senior students wear their “laurels” together.

The Czars place an outdoor fireplace right in front of Hauser Library, where the entire student body convenes for Thesis Parade. Senior students take turns running up to outdoor fireplace and burning their theses. Occasionally, professors who have completed major works of scholarship will also burn a manuscript. Professors, without costumes and with sheepish expressions, look somewhat out of place at Thesis Parade, but students are happy to see professors and welcome them into the festivities. The student body stays outside of the library for about an hour, although at this point the festival feels outside of time. The whole school is in a state of celebration. Students bring bottles of champagne to spray on the Seniors, but almost everyone at the parade is quickly drenched in champagne. A group of musicians, called the “Drum Corp,” play music, mainly covered versions of popular songs that are preformed in the style of jazz music and with a heavy drum beat. One commonly played song during the 2010 Thesis Parade was a cover of the hip-hop song So Fresh, So Clean by OutKast. Students dance, often to their own beat, and sing along. Many students bring their own noisemakers to add to the joyful din. Some students stand on roof of the Hauser Library or on other raised platforms and shoot confetti and glitter onto the students below. Amongst the flying confetti, loud music, and spraying champagne, students kiss one another. (Professors do not participate in this part of the festival.) There is no real rhyme or reason determining who kisses whom; if two students, of any gender, make eye contact they will generally begin kissing. Students tend to kiss other students that they are friends with, or have spoken with before, but kissing complete strangers is not uncommon or even seen as strange during Thesis Parade. Prior to Renn Fayre, upper classmen give new students various tips for avoiding kissing someone, if they do not want to participate. These tips range from simply saying “no, thank you” to carrying a water bottle and taking a drink when the other person looks like they’re going to kiss you. Few students, though, do not participate in the kissing as a part of the general revelry of the Thesis Parade.

After the Seniors have burnt their theses, they run through the Hauser Library. The rest of the student body, still celebrating, goes to the back of the library and creates a human tunnel for the Seniors to run through after they exit the library. Once all of the Seniors have left the library, they run through Eliot Hall, where most of the administrative offices are located. The rest of the student body gathers outside of the building to greet the Seniors as they leave the building. After all of the Seniors have left Eliot Hall, some students continue the Parade towards the Commons Dinning Hall and the Quad, but the majority of the crowd disperses.

It is nearly impossible to accurately describe all of the events of the Renn Fayre festival that occur over the next two days. There is always something happening on the campus, and often multiple events happen at the same time. All of the academic departments and various student groups form softball teams and play in a softball tournament continuously through the weekend.  Also throughout the festival, students are encouraged to build and experience various art projects related to theme. For example, a group of students used some sort of chicken wire and black plastic trash bags to create a tunnel over “The Blue Bridge,” a bridge that extends across the Canyon, connecting the two halves of campus. By poking small holes in the trash bags, sticking glow-in-the-dark stars onto the trash bags, and hanging streamers at both ends of the tunnel, the student artists created the illusion of night sky for students walking across the bridge. This was one of the less-elaborate art projects. Different bands, both student and professional, play all over campus throughout the weekend. There are also a few “lodges,” such as “Black Lodge,” “White Lodge,” and “Green Lodge,” that play a specific genre of music twenty-four hours a day. Lastly, commercial Food Carts are stationed outside of the Hauser Library twenty-four hours a day.

In addition to the weekend-long activities, there are three traditions worth mentioning: the Fireworks, Glow Opera, and the “Pict-ers.” On the Saturday night of Renn Fayre, students gather on one of the sports fields to watch an elaborate fireworks display set to music. Students travel to and from the field in a pack, and “oooh” and “awww” together as the fireworks explode in time to the music. The show was as grand as any 4th of July celebration that I have attended, and with the music the display took on a majestic and otherworldly feel. Students squash together wherever they can find a good vantage point, usually on the field itself, but often on the balcony and roof of the dorm next to the field.

Once the fireworks display concludes, the students traipse back across the Canyon to the other side of campus to watch Glow Opera. At the bottom of a hill, a group of students put on a show, similar to a puppet show, using only glow sticks. The glow sticks are creatively glued together to represent different characters, sets, and props. One particularly memorable design was the bus from the popular cartoon “Scooby Doo” with all of the main characters seated inside of it. Music plays in the background of the show, and because of the lack of acoustics the dialogue, often sung in a mock Operatic style, is almost impossible to hear. Most students simply watch the lights.

The “Pict-ers” are a group of students that one morning of the festival runs around the campus completely naked and covered entirely in blue paint. They run around the campus trying to hug as many people as possible, and in particular another group of students dressed entirely in white clothing.  The students in white clothing, whose name I was never able to discern, and the “Pict-ers” are “fighting,” although I am unclear of how the students in white clothing “fight back.” Some students suggested that the group in white clothing tries to get white paint on the “Pict-ers,” but I could never get this confirmed. In addition to hugging people, the “Pict-ers” aim to create general confusion as they run through the campus.

During Renn Fayre, the campus has an atmosphere of freedom. Students are joyful and relaxed. Despite being so close to final exams, no one discusses schoolwork or shows any sign of stress. This carefree attitude contrasts sharply with attitudes at any other point in the academic year. Reed College students pride themselves on being scholars, and during the academic year schoolwork consumes their lives. “Reedies,” as Reed students refer to themselves, love learning and the college provides them with an intense academic and intellectual environment. Simply put, Reedies work hard. For the most part, Reedies truly enjoy their work, but it is undeniable that all of this hard work creates a stressful atmosphere on campus. Walking into Hauser Library during the normal school year, I could feel the tension and taste the caffeine in the air.

Renn Fayre, in many ways, is seen as a light at the end of a yearlong tunnel. The festival is Reedies’ reward for surviving the year. The Czars need to reveal the Renn Fayre theme in the fall semester to give the student body hope, to remind them that all of their hard work is worth it. Whenever students complain about schoolwork, someone will most likely exclaim, “I cannot wait until Renn Fayre!” Likewise, the Renn Fayre count down website gets posted just as due dates for major assignments begin arriving.

The major events of the festival help students release tensions built up during the academic year. Thesis Parade, the most popularly attended event, is the pinnacle of this release. The burning of the theses simultaneously represents and releases the frustration of writing such a demanding piece; many seniors working throughout the year, frustrated with themselves, wish they could burn their computers and their theses right then. By burning their theses, they get to let go all of their stress and frustration and symbolically give into it. The other aspects of Thesis Parade allow students momentarily to go crazy and release any and all physical tensions, including of course sexual tensions. The “Pict-ers” serve a similar purpose: students, unembarrassed by their bodies, get to create chaos free of guilt. Many of the weekend-long activities, such as the softball games and concerts, allow students to simply relax and give into their desire to be worry-free. My most peaceful memory from Reed College is watching the softball tournament final game. My friends and I sat on the sidelines, drinking lemonade, cheering on the Political Science team, and forgeting completely about the stresses of being a student.

Renn Fayre also creates a sense of community and defines what it means to be a “Reedie.” The Fireworks and Glow Opera events, for example, are celebrations of the end of the school year, but more importantly they are also one of the few times when a vast majority of the student body gathers together. (This is also true of Thesis Parade.) Similarly, positions like “The Border Patrol” and “The Karma Patrol” allow students to protect and look out for one another, and take ownership over the community. Traditions like the “Pict-ers” remind “Reedies” that the community is accepting of eccentricities and liberal. Student directed aspects of Renn Fayre, such as the student concerts and art projects remind students that “Reedies” are not just smart; they are also creative and want to share that creativity. Lastly, by the end of Renn Fayre new students feel a new sense of belonging within the Reed community. After Renn Fayre, they know that they can survive Reed College and they too will count down the days to the festival during the next school year.

Essentially, Renn Fayre creates a weekend outside of time when Reedies are free to be free and to celebrate themselves. “Reedies” have one weekend where they can escape from all the worries of life, imposed by their academically intense school as well as the expectations of society. Renn Fayre provides “Reedies” with a supportive environment in which they can come together as a community and act without inhibitions. Reed College will likely never stop hosting Renn Fayre, in some variation, because it creates and enforces the community’s identity while acting as a release valve for the stresses of being a “Reedie.”