Celebrating Raisin: St Andrews’ Booziest Tradition

Last Monday morning, I went to my mom’s house, put on a Cowardly Lion costume and walked to a giant foam fight with my family.

That’s a sentence I certainly never would’ve written at the College of William and Mary, but after experiencing Raisin Weekend at the University of St Andrews, it makes perfect sense. Like the College, St Andrews is a school with many traditions, and Raisin is one of the best and booziest.

Several hundred years ago, students at St Andrews began the tradition of “adopting” incoming students and introducing them to the university. In return, academic children gave their parents a pound of raisins.

Although the tradition of creating an academic family is still an essential element of Raisin, the weekend has drastically evolved in all other respects. Today, Raisin is a two-day event consisting of drinking with your parents on Sunday and participating in a giant foam fight on Monday. In preparation for the foam fight, your mom dresses you up in a costume, and your dad gives you a “receipt” to carry to the fight. Instead of giving your parents a pound of raisins as thanks, you’re expected to give a bottle of wine.

I began my Raisin Sunday at 6:30 a.m., when my roommate’s academic dad came into our room with a bottle of whiskey and a bag of bread. My roommate and her academic sister, who stumbled into the room in her pajamas a few minutes later, played a short drinking game involving cards and whiskey shots and then went back to bed.

Neither of my parents decided to wake me up this early, although many of my friends were not quite so lucky. One friend’s dad told him to be outside of our hall at 7 a.m., at which point he was greeted with shots of whiskey and vodka and told to fully submerge himself in the North Sea.

While my parents didn’t wake me up early, my mom did give me very specific instructions for the day. At 9:43 a.m. exactly, I arrived at my mom’s house with a bottle of wine and a large piece of clothing I never wear.

Before my academic sister and I were allowed to enter the house, we had to play a drinking game based on how much we knew about our academic moms; two flatmates decided to create an extended family and include their children in the same festivities. I started off strong, but when the questions got more complicated, I had to take several penalty shots.

Following the game, we ate a typical English breakfast, including mushrooms, toast and blood sausage. I probably wouldn’t have tried the blood sausage if I hadn’t taken so many penalty shots, but for future reference it tastes like very dry, crumbly pudding encased in fried dough.

Photo by László Szegedi

At this point, the effects of the penalty shot and a few additional drinks with breakfast hit me, and I fell asleep until the afternoon.

Another Raisin Sunday tradition is participating in a scavenger hunt, and while I was asleep, my academic siblings did just that. Their tasks included finding the most American object in St Andrews, kissing strangers of both sexes and trading the unwanted clothing they had brought for other objects. Once my family returned from the scavenger hunt, I had made a full recovery and was able to participate in the rest of the afternoon’s activities.

After playing a few more drinking games, I left my mom’s house to spend the evening with my dads (I was co-adopted by twin brothers). Unfortunately, the effects of the afternoon’s drinking hit me again, so I mainly slept through my dads’ pancake dinner.

The next day, I felt much better after getting a full night’s rest. I walked to my mom’s house around 10 a.m. to pick up my costume, traditionally known as fancy dress, for the foam fight. My family decided to go with a Wizard of Oz theme, so my two siblings and I were dressed as the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow.

I was supposed to visit my dads’ house next in order to pick up my Raisin receipt, but I was held up at my mom’s and decided to go directly to the foam fight. The walk to the fight was almost as interesting as the fight itself, as it gave me the chance to see other children’s costumes. Some, like a group of blue Smurfs cling-wrapped together, were odd, while others, like a giant dragon body covering 10 people, were highly inventive.

The fight itself was chaotic. I found a few friends from my programme and hall, but it was hard to tell who people were because everyone was completely covered in foam. I stayed at the fight for about an hour, then returned to my hall, where I was doused with a bucket of cold water. The boys in my hall were also hosed down before they were let in, but they had to strip to their boxers and race around the entire hall first.

Raisin was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had at St Andrews thus far. It wasn’t quite as crazy as I’d expected it to be, but given my low alcohol tolerance, that was probably a blessing. Next year, it’ll be my turn to adopt, and thanks to my experience with Raisin this year, I’ve already started brainstorming events and planning costumes for next year’s weekend.

The Flat HatNovember 2, 2015

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