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Davis, California

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Getting acquainted with Aggie traditions

Ever seen a dachshund race or been to a bonfire rally? Well, now you can. Welcome to UC Davis.

With 100 years of history, UC Davis holds many traditions passed down from student to student over the decades. Many survive. Others don’t.


Picnic Day

One of the oldest UC Davis traditions, Picnic Day is the campus’ annual spring open house.

“The event started [in 1909] as an actual picnic with faculty and students on campus,” said Christine Pham, 2009 Picnic Day chair. “It’s evolved into a campus open house – a chance to celebrate what’s great about UC Davis.”

Today, UC Davis departments put on exhibits showcasing their achievements, and various events help introduce prospective students to the campus.

Annual highlights include a parade to kick off the festivities, the aforementioned dachshund race, which is sponsored by the Veterinary School of Medicine, and a chemistry magic show put on by the UC Davis Chemistry Club.

Picnic Day is a favorite of UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef.

“The best thing about Picnic Day is not the parade or the dachshund races or the battle of the bands. It’s that Picnic Day was invented by the students in the early 1900s, and is, to this day, run by the students,” said Vanderhoef in an e-mail interview. “It’s the best campus ‘open house’ in the country.”

Homecoming Week

In addition to the big Homecoming football game (this year the Aggies will take on Southern Utah on Oct. 11), there are many other festivities and sporting events planned for the week, spanning from Oct. 6 to 11.

One age-old ritual during Homecoming Week is the Pajamarino, currently hosted by the Student Alumni Association (SAA).

The tradition began over 90 years ago when pajama-clad undergraduates snuck out of their dorm rooms to parade to the Davis train station and greet returning alumni, according to SAA’s website.

In recent years, most students wear street clothes to the event, but the premise remains the same: Give alumni a rousing welcome back. The students are accompanied by the California Aggie Marching Band-uh! and the UC Davis Spirit Squad.

Interested in participating? Meet at the Davis Train Station at 7 p.m. on Oct. 10 and plan on returning to campus with the group to attend the Homecoming Bonfire Rally, hosted by the Aggie Pack.

The bonfire, deeply rooted in UC Davis’ history, started in the 1920s but was disbanded in the 1960s because it lacked support on campus, said Scott Brayton, assistant athletics director in marketing at UC Davis.

“It was brought back in the eighties … [and has] been going strong ever since,” he said.

“It’s the largest bonfire of the West,” said Greg Ortiz, director of promotions for intercollegiate athletics at UC Davis. “It’s a rah-rah event to get fired up for the game the next day.”

“The football players get out there with the dance team and cheer team and do some combined routines, and then Coach [Bob] Biggs speaks,” he said.


Whole Earth Festival

This school year marks the 40th anniversary of the three-day Whole Earth Festival, scheduled for May 8 to 10.

Started in 1969 by artist and teacher Jose Arguelles and a group of his students as a way to showcase art and provide an alternative to the time period’s typical forms of education, the festival has evolved into amultifaceted event.

Booths, workshops and speakers are abundant at Whole Earth, along with crafts, music, dancers and refreshments.

A big part of Whole Earth is stressing the importance of sustainability. More than 97 percent of the festival’s waste was composted last year, diverting it from landfill, said Ari Reisman, the festival’s 2009 co-director.

All booths are hand-produced, and food booths have reusable dish programs.


The Cal Aggie Marching Band-uh!

Started in 1929 as a small pep band, the band has evolved into a full-fledged marching ensemble with a roster of about 225.

You may recognize the band in its informal uniforms – more casual and loose fitting – performing around campus as the “Maverick Band.” This alter ego of the formal band was formed in 1963 to play for basketball games; they now also perform at a variety of campus and community events.

“The informal band has done a lot to really create what we are,” drum major Dave Jones said.

The band does get decked out in full regalia for football games and various other events throughout the year.

“One of the favorite traditions … is that we haven’t missed a football game – home or away – in a couple of decades,” Jones said.

The band is also very active during Picnic Day. In addition to marching in the parade twice – once in formal and once in informal dress – the band plays in Battle of the Bands in the afternoon.


Now-defunct Aggie traditions

Not everything stands the test of time.

A popular custom that originated after World War II was the on-campus “Hello Aggie” greeting. The idea was to promote a friendly and comfortable environment, said Brent Laabs, 2007-2008’s ASUCD Historian.

During this period of rapid campus expansion and enrollment growth, “Hello Aggie” helped retain a small college atmosphere, Laabs explained.

Laabs added that the tradition died sometime in the mid-1960s – the school was expanding too fast to keep up, and the growing counter-culture of the time ended the custom.

One old tradition that, for first-year students, is thankfully long gone is the freshman tank rush, which started in the mid 1910s and was stopped in the 1930s when more women started arriving on campus, Laabs said.

“There were a bunch of tanks for animals to drink from. Freshmen got thrown in there or in the creek – basically anywhere with water,” Laabs said.

Another old UC Davis tradition, if it can be called that, is the throwing of tortillas at commencement ceremonies.

Although it had about a 10-year run a few years ago, “I don’t think it ever reached the status of ‘tradition,'” Vanderhoef said.

“Tortillas flew around like Frisbees and were fun in a goofy kind of way,” he said.

The tortilla-tossing began when two other commonly thrown items – graduation caps and inflatable beach balls – were being discouraged.

“I think that what really put an end to it, though, was when we started to collect tortillas at the door in barrels. When [people] saw how much food was being wasted, whether thrown or collected, it just stopped.” Vanderhoef said.

ANNA OPALKA can be reached at features@californiaaggie.com.



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