Summer Camp: The Joy of Tradition

kids hanging out at summer camp
Camp Incarnation

One of the features that makes the camp experience so special are the traditions and rituals that take place each summer. Camp traditions deepen the connection to the camp community and they become ingrained in the camp culture. They help to tie together the generations of campers and staff that came before and will come after.

Each camp has its own unique rituals and traditions that become woven into the fabric of the camp. “Camp traditions are important because they create identity as a community,” explains Will Pierce, a fourth-generation Owner and Director of Pierce Country Day Camp in Roslyn, NY. “Traditions send the message to campers that you are part of the same intentionally structured experience where we are inclusive and do things together.”

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Traditions give campers events to look forward to summer after summer. For 40 years, the boys camp at Camp Scatico has done a rope burn during color war and it’s something that graduating campers aspire to take part in years in advance. “The entire camp collects wood during the day for the evening rope burn and graduating campers strategize on what type of fire to build, how much kindling to use and what kind of wood would work best to burn the rope hanging between the poles. For graduating campers, building a fire in front of the whole camp is very memorable,” explains David Fleischner, a third-generation Owner and Director of Camp Scatico, a brother-sister overnight camp in Elizaville, NY. At Pierce Country Day Camp, two of the oldest traditions are the director jumping through a hoop of fire and making magic rock candy. “Every child hopes they get chosen to make magic rock candy and that they are one day old enough to stay at camp late to see us jump through a hoop of fire into the pool,” Pierce says.

“All camps have different kinds of traditions that evolve over time. Some are things we plan and have been doing for 70-80 years but others are new and happen organically from the bottom up,” Fleischner says. “For years, we’ve had a July 4th BBQ, talent show, and fireworks. About 10-15 years ago, campers started wearing crazy red, white, and blue outfits for the evening, even though we’re a uniform camp. Campers will say it’s their favorite day of the year.”

Rituals at camp like reveillee blowing in the morning, taps playing at night, and the raising and lowering of the flag become part of a camper’s daily routine and help campers to know what to expect each day and year after year. Campers also appreciate that what they are experiencing at camp in 2019 are the same rituals from decades before and will likely occur for many years to come. “There are big traditions at camp but also smaller life traditions in how you live your day to day at camp,” Fleischner says. “At each meal, the boys’ camp comes into the dining hall and stands behind their chair for a moment of silence. We then sit as a camp and after announcements, we leave the dining hall as a camp.” Fleischner says the girls’ camp comes together three or four nights a week for an activity. “At the end of every evening activity, the whole camp sings the camp alma mater, an old camp tradition which new campers learn the words to quickly. These events bring together girls from across age groups, creating a sense of the entire community participating in something together.”

Alumni appreciate the continuing traditions that occur each year and helps them feel connected to the camp, even long after they have attended themselves. Pierce says: “I love having parents and alumni tell me that my grandfather cracked an egg on their head to make magic rock candy. They can’t believe it’s still happening at Pierce so many years later.