In my opinion, no college or university is complete without its share of strange and sometimes incomprehensible list of bizarre traditions. Clemson students rub their ancient rock before football games, students attending the University of St. Andrews walk up and down the pier on Sundays wearing red robes, and Erskine College girls hold candlelights.
Arriving at Erskine my freshman year, I had never heard of a candlelight. I was walking around campus in my innocent freshman-in-her-first-week-of-college state where I constantly imagined that there could not possibly exist anyone as mature or independent as I currently was. And then, bam! I am assaulted on the front steps of my own college with three posters! Come to the candlelight! And I thinking, come to whaaaaatt?? I figured that they must be very popular at Erskine (whatever they were) because three of them were being held that week, with one being that very night! I decided to go along and figure out what it was all about.
I probably would have been lost and not made it to my first candlelight on time except for the fact that all candlelights are held right outside of the women’s dormitories. I made it just in time for what appeared to be the beginning of a strange ritual: girls standing in a circle in the dark and passing around a lit candle while singing some sort of song that everyone magically knew the lyrics to. The entire thing was rather enchanting and beautiful until one of the girls suddenly blew the candle out and everyone stopped singing and starting dumping water on her head! (And I am just standing there thinking…. WHAT on EARTH is going on around here???)
But once I had stuck around for the rest of the event, I got the basic idea of what was going on, and over the past three years at Erskine my love for the tradition has only grown stronger. The Candlelight is simple: whenever an Erskine girl gets engaged, she attempts to keep it a secret and only tell one or two of her closest friends (I say ‘attempts’ because we need to be real here: girls, especially the recently engaged sort, have a very hard time NOT talking!) That day or evening her friends plan a candlelight for her to help her announce her engagement to the world; they put up posters all around campus announcing that an Erskine girl has been engaged recently and will be having a candlelight some time that week. They usually include a picture or a quote or something which gives you a clue about who the girl might be: but ideally only the one or two girls planning the candlelight know who is engaged.
Girls love to talk about candlelights! It makes a very fun game: sitting in your room with your friends talking about who could possibly be engaged. People will guess random couples and discuss how likely they think it is to be each certain person. “Oh no, it could not be her because I am pretty sure she was studying all weekend” or “It could be her! Didn’t she say this weekend was her two year anniversary???” Girls will keep on guessing right up until the candlelight starts, when everyone will gather outside of the women’s dorms in a huge circle. One of the girls who planned the candlelight will light a candle and begin singing. We sing a song about love (the same one every time) while passing the candle from person to person in the circle. And we stare at each other. We wonder who is going to blow out the candle.
And suddenly, one girl blows out the candle! She is the one who engaged! Usually everyone shrieks in their excitement and then celebrates her new life of engagement by pouring a cup of water over her head! The girl who is engaged then stands in the middle of the circle, dripping wet, and shares the story of how her fiancé proposed to her. Everyone listens with fascination and then celebrates the fantastic story by picking the girl up and then carrying her over to the nearby fountain to drop her in! It is one of our favourite ways of showing love to our fellow sisters in Christ at Erskine 🙂
And now this story comes with a twist. As you know, there are six students (5 girls, 1 boy) from Erskine studying abroad at St. Andrews this semester. Two weeks after we get here the sole male traveller, Robert, decides that he is ready to propose to his girlfriend, who is also studying abroad. He and his girlfriend, Angel, went to the beach with two other girls from Erskine to do a “photo shoot” when he suddenly bends down on one knee and proposes!
We are all very excited for Angel, and the four of us other girls who are here decide that Angel ought to be able to have her very own candlelight! But how can we do it? There are only five Erskine girls here total… and there is no way Angel can wait until we get back from Scotland to tell! So Angel decided she will not be able to have a candlelight after all… but the four of us had other plans!
Out plan was fairly simple but surprisingly fun. We told Angel that we all wanted to meet for some ice cream. We convinced her to come outside her dorm and come with us, even if she had not eaten her dinner yet (everyone knows it is the new thing to eat dessert before dinner, Angel!) We all secretly brought a cup of water with us and met her outside on the steps. And just when she had begun to suspect that something was up… surprise!! We dumped water all over and began to sing the song!! We all had a really fun time bringing a little bit of Erskine tradition to St. Andrews to celebrate our friend’s engagement! It was super hilarious because while we were all standing in a circle singing several people walked by and looked at us like…. What on EARTH is WRONG with these people??? But we just kept on singing!
And then we went and got our ice cream 🙂