RA: “The biggest tradition I remember from going to A&M is the Aggie bonfire. I’m pretty sure I went every year. That was… such an event. A&M was always known for being a very spirited school, but the bonfire was the biggest sort of school spirit celebration we had, and it’s the only one I can really remember going to. We had the bonfire the night before a football game usually, not one our of rivals but one we knew that we would win against. It’s a really old tradition, by now they’ve probably done it for at least a hundred years. I think the bonfire started out small, and I don’t think anyone knows why, other than as a way to support the football team. But by the time I was at A&M it had grown a lot, and there were even multiple bonfires. There was one main one that students would plan, but there were also lots of smaller ones that people would have with their friends. There was also usually an alumni fire. At the bonfires we cheer and drink and burn effigies of the other team’s mascot. There also, um, more exciting things that happen, that I can’t talk with my son about. (I had my first hook-up there). But the fires got even bigger after I left, and I think it became an official school tradition. There was a board that organized it and you had apply to be an organizer on it. When I was there anyone could volunteer. Makes sense, because at that point the fires were so big you needed to think about architecture and physics of the whole thing to make sure it lights up and stays standing. Eventually in the ‘90s there was a tragedy and the bonfire collapsed. I don’t remember how many people died, but the school had to ban the bonfires for a long time. People would try to throw little, secret ones sometimes, but there weren’t any big bonfires for a long time. At some point an Alumnus group got together and started throwing the bonfires again, but they’re kept a lot smaller and I think they have actual engineers help to design the bonfires.”
AB: “Why were the bonfires so important to you and to the school?”
RA: “I was never a very spirited person, but my friends and I always went to the bonfires. It was fun to be together with everyone yelling and dancing around a fire. Going to the bonfire was apart of being an Aggie.”
School spirit traditions are important at many schools, not just as a way of building excitement and attention for sporting events, usually football, but they also serve as an important community building tool. The informant primarily attended for social reasons, and indeed it appears that the bonfire is an important part of school social life.