Big weekends anchor Dartmouth traditions each term

by Sasha Dudding | 8/12/13 10:00pm

by Maggie Rowland and Maggie Rowland / The Dartmouth


For incoming freshmen, Homecoming will likely be the most meaningful big weekend. The late October event is a formal introduction to the Dartmouth community and leads to memorable bonding experiences.

The weekend is best known for its giant bonfire during Dartmouth Night. A team of freshmen organize and build the bonfire in the days leading up to the Friday of Homecoming, and students and organizations decorate it before it is lit.

Freshmen dress in Dartmouth gear long-sleeved shirts emblazoned with "2017" purchased from the Dartmouth Co-op on the evening of the bonfire. Once decked out in Dartmouth green, students eagerly await the freshman sweep, a parade that picks up students from each residential cluster and arrives at the Green with the entire class in tow.

While standing around the bonfire, students hear performances by a cappella groups and speeches from administrators. This year, College President Philip Hanlon will address the newest members of his alma mater.

Once the fire is lit, over 1,000 eager freshmen begin their run around the bonfire. Members of the Class of 2017 will be encouraged to run 117 laps around the fire, though 17 is another popular option.

The crowd shouts, "touch the fire" and "worst class ever," though the more negative of these comments have recently been discouraged. Some upperclassmen now hold encouraging signs and run a lap or two around the fire alongside their new classmates.

The first recorded bonfire was built following a baseball victory in 1888, and Homecoming was first celebrated in 1895. The bonfire became a tradition in 1946 and has since been perfected with a blueprint from the Thayer School of Engineering.

Saturday afternoon, freshmen often rush the field during the Homecoming football game, though some students have faced consequences.

In many ways, Homecoming offers the most opportunities of any big weekend for class bonding and memorable experiences. Katie Williamson '15 said Homecoming is her favorite big weekend because of its focus on building friendships.

"I'd say that one's the most memorable," she said. "You get separated from your class on the other big weekends they're more about the events and stuff."

Akiko Okuda '15 said running around the bonfire makes one feel "like you're part of a cult." For Kristen Rothe '15, the bonfire meant taking her place in the Dartmouth family.

"It's the first time I felt like a part of this larger Dartmouth community," she said.


Dartmouth's second big weekend rolls around in mid-February. Hanover winters are cold and icy enough to make hibernation an attractive option, but Winter Carnival brings everyone out of indoor heating and into the snow for a weekend of activities.

Organized by the Winter Carnival Council, each year's weekend has a theme and matching snow sculpture. The Dartmouth Skiway's 99-cent ski day on Friday is a popular activity for many.

"It is a fun celebration of winter," Emily Brody-Bizar '15 said. "It's great to take advantage of the 99-cent ski day and to do the polar bear plunge and not be intimidated by it."

Still, many of the weekend's sports are more unconventional. The human dogsled race involves teams of four dressed in flair, with three people pulling the fourth across the Green in a sled.

There is also a flair-clad cross-country ski race around the golf course and a polar bear swim, which involves jumping into the icy waters of Occom Pond.

Winter Carnival began in 1910 and, by mid-century, was known nationwide. F. Scott Fitzgerald was a guest in 1939, but the festivities proved too much for him and he checked into a New York sanatorium to recover.

Before the College began admitting women in 1972, men would bus dates from surrounding women's colleges to the festivities, and many of the women would compete for the title of Carnival Queen.

Although Winter Carnival is no longer as momentous an occasion as it was for these men, it brings out the best of the snowy season at Dartmouth.


Green Key weekend arrives in late May, drawing the campus outside to enjoy the sunshine after a long transition to the New Hampshire spring. Green Key has no specific theme but includes four days of revelry and music.

Since its inception in 1899, Green Key's long and colorful past has been marked by debauchery. The event was called Spring Houseparties Weekend until the Green Key Society was formed in 1921 and took on the task of organizing the weekend's events.

Like other big weekends, Green Key brought busloads of women from nearby colleges to the festivities as dates. Aside from a dance and a beauty contest, one popular activity among Dartmouth men and their dates was a night spent on the golf course.

One policeman on patrol during the Green Key of 1954 stopped by the golf course to find 69 students and their dates, including a student who had brought supplies ranging from heroin to cupcakes. Other historical incidents included the naked bicycle ride around the Green performed by Lulu McWoosh in 1931, which resulted in the weekend's cancellation for the next three years.

Although Green Key's carousing continues to define it, musical acts are always part of the weekend.

"A lot of schools have spring flings, and this is ours," Allie Young '13 said.

This year, ASAP Rocky, Shaggy, Afroman, Adventure Club and Baauer all performed on campus, prompting Tanya Budler '15 to call the weekend a "music festival."

"Green Key is amazing because it's a chance to frolic outside or go to the river, or to do things you wouldn't normally do," Budler said.


The fourth big weekend only happens once for each class, during sophomore summer. Formerly called "Tubestock" after its tradition of students floating down the Connecticut River in inner tubes, the weekend was renamed when a local ordinance forced the termination of this tradition in 2006.

This August marks the eighth celebration of Fieldstock. A chariot race on the Green, the weekend's best-known tradition, features teams of students from Greek houses and other organizations who build vehicles for the competition. Concerts, free food and outdoor games round out the weekend's events.