Towson Time Machine: Ye Olde English Dinner

By: Morgan Schmidt, Columnist

It’s the week after Thanksgiving and the holidays are in full swing. While there is still no snow, (knock on wood for those of us who don’t have four wheel drive,) and Starbucks is adamant in their decision to keep their solid red winter cups, (please, for the love of Old Saint Nick, send your complaints elsewhere,) 97.1FM is playing commercial-free Christmas music! Cartons of eggnog have once again nudged their way into the local grocery store refrigerators and your neighbor’s inflatable Santa is out on the lawn bellowing, “Ho-Ho-Hooooo!” on a 10-minute loop.   

The one day of the year when it’s considered normal – even encouraged – to stuff yourself to your heart’s content, consequently drag your slippers to the sofa and nod off in front of the warm glow of a television screen is gone. Mom’s no longer there offering to do laundry, nor is there a fridge full of leftovers. Rest assured, however, undergraduates in the 1920s felt the same kind of post-feast sadness.  Their solution? The Olde English Dinner.

A paragraph in Dean Esslinger’s “The Campus History Series,” revealed that the tradition began under the tenure of our school’s sixth President, Lida Lee Tall, who was noted for approving any activity that honed etiquette and socialization outside of the classroom and dormitory. Between white linens and a wait staff trained to effortlessly carry silver platters down the long, Hogwarts-like aisles, it’s hard to say it did otherwise.  Inspiration was derived from the English nobles who invited their tenants into their manors at Christmas time to share a meal.  Newell Hall quickly became the annual backdrop for this Medieval-themed dinner party that gathered students and faculty during the last week of December for some much-needed merriment.

“It was a time for dressing up as fair maids or jesters, for colorful processions, and for feasting at the “groaning board,” Esslinger says.

Two students were chosen to be the “royalty”, similar to how we currently vote for a homecoming king and queen. Traditionally, the menu would consist of wild boar and peacock, served with frumenty, (a dish of wheat combined with almond or sweet milk and mixed with fat venison or fresh mutton,) and topped off with a plum pudding. Attendees were entertained by the lighting of the Yule log, singing Christmas carols, watching a Christmas theater production, and “slaying the dragon” (usually a classmate in costume). The night ended with a formal dance in Richmond Hall.

According to fellow Towerlight Contributor Nadia Nasr, a committee was organized in 1946, after Theresa Widenfeld succeeded Dr. Tall as president, to revive what had been called, “the most colorful and inspiring of the college celebrations”. A shortage of supplies, however, prevented them from doing so.

At Towson we like to go big or go home! Could you see yourself staying on campus a day longer to partake in festivities like these?

 

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