Photo: Natasha Franks

The Raisin Bacchanalia

A student’s chronicle of and reflections on Raisin Sunday.

Being able to write perfect iambic pentameter whilst completely intoxicated is one of those niche skills that seem impressive enough at a party, but are not quite respectable enough to have on one’s CV. In my case, however, it got me invited to the Raisin event of a friend of mine, with the commission to immortalise the festivities in verse.

As court poet and chronicler to this fine family (‘But what about your own?’ I hear you ask. Long story short: I was adopted in second year and never adopted myself.), it was my duty to observe and record their ‘alcohol Olympiad’: a series of challenges of both physical strength and agility (e.g. darts, twister), mental acuity (e.g. quiz questions, never-have-I-ever), and of course capacity for alcohol.

Now, I usually write in Miltonian blank verse, but that day I felt like rhyming for some reason:

Th’Olympic fires are lit, and clarions sound

‘Tis ye they call, intrepid children! Who

Shall win the fame and prize to boast all round

Of Bacchanalic deeds of derring-do?

‘Tis fearful, yes, to sail the tide of wine,

Or, god-like, run on waves of aqua-vit’;

‘Twere no disgrace of you refuse to climb

Up th’alcoholic Helicon, and quit!

And so on, for about twenty lines more, at which point I was tempted by the significant quantities of drink on offer, and succumbed to the repeated entreaties to join in the challenges myself.

Thus began a wild fourteen-hour romp through several parties, including one held at the very flat where my first Raisin took place (ah, the memories!). At one point the whole competition itself ended around the early evening (for the curious, the ranking was: gold for Canada, silver for the USA, and bronze for the UK), but it was followed by even more drinking. For myself, the night concluded with giving an impromptu lecture on ethics and the principles of Christian theology to a fascinated audience of half a dozen whilst walking back to my hall at around 2 am.

Throughout the entire experience, and in my glimpses of parallel celebrations on that day, there were several themes which seemed to appear again and again. Firstly, I am struck by how easily the classical allusions suggest themselves when writing about Raisin. This is not only because my preferred style of ‘comic epic’ is a poor pastiche of Alexander Pope. There is indeed something of those ancient orgiastic feasts in honour of Bacchus in the way we celebrate Raisin; there is a glimpse of Plato’s Symposium in each family drinking-party. The common theme is not just the superficial excess – excess in drink and other pleasures – but rather in the way that these excesses seem to fulfil a quasi-sacred function of creating and strengthening ties of companionship and community.

And this brings me to my second point. You may well have noticed I have been skimpy on the details. This is due neither to a deficiency of memory, nor to any diffidence. Simply put, the experience of celebrating together with friends is far more memorable than any single banterous joke or medal in drinking, and it is incredibly difficult to describe in words.

I was able to reconnect with people whom I had known only briefly from tutorials or events in previous years, and to get to know them much better. And it is that essential with-ness, that togetherness, that is the true spirit of Raisin, and the reason why it will continue to be celebrated in the future. It was an honour to have been able to take part in it one last time, and I am eternally grateful to my friends for the opportunity.

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