A positive take on Oxford traditions

This may be my first year living in Oxford, but from what I can gather Trinity Term is truly the term of tradition. Michaelmas has matriculation and Oxmas, Hilary has torpids and half way hall. But these have nothing on May Day, Ascension Day and trashing, which is to name just a few traditions that Trinity term has to offer.

It would be easy to view these traditions cynically. Many think May Day to be a commercial fad with highly priced club nights and as an excuse for cafes to start earning so early in the morning, all just to hear a few songs being sung from a church tower. Others see exam etiquette as pointlessly pretentious; they ask themselves why they have to adhere to such a strict dress code to write a few essays or to solve an equation or two. I myself am not a cynic when it comes to tradition. Quite the contrary. For me tradition characterises Oxford as a historically and culturally rich city, it unites people, whether that is just the student body or the university with the town. What is the point of living in medieval buildings that have seen so much tradition pass through them if we are not going to embrace at least some of them, even just out of respect for what our predecessors have left us?

Magdalen choir’s hymn echoing down the High Street at 6am on May Morning is a tradition spanning 500 years. The hymn reaches many, due to the large crowds it attracts. It then becomes a lullaby for the sleepless and a relaxing wakeup call for the early risers. The simple act of listening means that for a few minutes we can hardly be differentiated from those that did the same thing 200 years before us. The Morris Dancing that sporadically begins all over the city centre in the hours that follow the 6am wakeup call, may not be to everybody’s taste yet it is undoubtedly charming and all done in good spirit.

Ascension Day is even more baffling for the outsider. Watching the Lincoln tradition of dropping pennies from the tower at children below with Brasenose students forgetting rivalry whilst they sip on ivy flavoured beer had me asking ‘why’ at many a moment. I was told by those I asked that the penny dropping, unlike the crew-date equivalent, has a traditional message behind it, namely to teach children about the dangers of greed. Brasenose entering in through the door that connects the two colleges is to make amends for an ancient feud. But knowing the ins-and-outs of all the meanings behind what we do is not necessary. The very fact that the festivities bring people together and involve the local community, with the children having come from a local primary school, is surely enough for one to see tradition as a positive and social concept.

Tradition is part of everyday life at Oxford, if you let it be. Formal hall and even the tutorial system itself haven arisen out of tradition. Therefore it seems that by applying and accepting your offer to study at the university you are too embracing tradition. To avoid it is to not fully experience what Oxford has to offer. Sure you can boycott formal hall and situations that seem elitist, but by doing this you are missing out on what makes Oxford a unique experience. After your degree you can return to normality and ditch the gown, but you may find yourself wishing you had embraced the tradition that you will not find elsewhere.

Balls, summer eights and trashing are yet to be experienced by us fresher’s. And I for one am looking forward to seeing what they add to this city already engulfed by a sense of heritage and tradition.