Mount Holyoke College has many cherished traditions, which students look forward to each year. Below are brief descriptions of some of the most popular traditions.*
Mountain Day, Mount Holyoke College's oldest tradition, has been in existence since 1838, the year after the Seminary's founding. Mountain Day occurs every fall, usually in late September or early October, and is kept secret until the moment when, in early morning, the chapel bells ring to announce all classes are canceled. Students (along with faculty and staff) spend the day climbing nearby mountains, particularly Mount Holyoke (commonly called Mt. Skinner) for exercise and to appreciate the natural beauty of the pastoral landscape which surrounds them.
Throughout its history, Mountain Day was suspended only for the Civil War and the destruction of the Seminary in 1896. During World Wars, students spent the day helping local farmers as a patriotic duty. Today, Mountain Day continues to be a beloved tradition, and every autumn the refrain "Is it Mountain Day yet?" is heard across campus.
Elfing is a first-year and sophomore based tradition, which is a favorite among the students.
When the Class of 1966 were first-years, they were, most unfortunately, very obnoxiously hazed during Hazing Day. Concerned by this, the class of 1966, now sophomores, tried to counter future harmful effects caused by Hazing Day by deciding to "care" for the first-years, but in secret. Each sophomore was paired with a first-year. The sophomore left little presents outside the first-year's doors for about a week. These gift-leaving sophomores were called elves.
This went over so well that, while in 1965 the first-year guide listed the sophomore class as "sophomore sisters," by 1966 they were listed as Elves. Under the legitimate wing of the school, Elfing became a delightful tradition.
Today, elfing occurs early to midway through fall semester. One date is set across campus for the start. Typically, the first part of Elfing is covering the first-year's door with newspaper or something fun, so that when the first-year innocently awakes, she'll open the door to startlement. She'll usually find the first of her little elfing gifts as well. The first-year, or, in Elfing, the Elfee (as in the one being Elfed), receives these presents over the course of the week from her Elf who, of course, goes by a false name. After Elfing, the sophomore reveals her still-secret identity.
Much like elfing, members of another class wish to bond and welcome first-years in a unique, friendly way with "Dis-O", which stands for disorientation. Dis-O is a closely guarded secret at Mount Holyoke and details about timing and activities remain under wraps until the event begins.
Milk and Cookies
Milk and Cookies (also referred to as "milk and crackers", but most commonly known as "M&Cs") is a sweet tradition at Mount Holyoke. Sunday through Thursday, at 9:30 p.m., each residence hall conveniently provides snacks and beverages for its students. Usually cookies, pastries or sweets would accompany a selection of coffee, hot chocolate, milks and teas. Recently, however, healthier options like tortilla chips, crackers, vegetables and fruits have been offered as well. As the semester progresses, M&Cs serves as a much needed study break and offers the opportunity to students living in the same residence hall to chat and interact.
The true origin of “milk and cookies” is hard to come by, as this delicious treat exists in many a place outside of the college. The tradition likely started with the class of 1968, if not earlier. When asked what they miss most about Mount Holyoke College, numerous alumni (including the Mount Holyoke Club of New York) say “M&Cs”. In appreciation of Mount Holyoke’s warm and thoughtful tradition, the a cappella group “M&Cs” was founded in 1990, and remains an active part of the community today.
Pangynaskeia, a word loosely defined as “cultivating the total world of women – physical, intellectual, and moral,” was one of the names that Mary Lyon was considering for her new seminary before the name "Mount Holyoke" won out. Pangynaskeia as a tradition, though, is rather modern. Pangynaskeia became a festival celebrating this “total world of women,” debuting as a Mount Holyoke College tradition in 1979.
Pangynaskeia was “…conceived of by a group of students who wanted to recreate the spirit and enthusiasm on campus that was felt by everyone at the inauguration of President Elizabeth Topham Kennan.” As Kennan was inaugurated into the post of President in 1978, these founding students set about immediately planning for a celebration set for 1979. At its start, Pangynaskeia consisted of an April weekend full of songs, athletics, panel discussions, and a campus-wide picnic.
Today, Pangynaskeia, often referred to as “Pangy Day”, is celebrated each spring with a campus-wide picnic on Skinner Green.
*The information provided above about Mountain Day, Elfing, and Pangynaskeia was researched and written by Jennifer Loomer '04 and Katherine Underwood '05 in History 283, Fall Semester 2003