Camp is full of traditions.
A tradition can be something that we have done since 1967, or something just a few years old. My mom used to suggest, “If you do something twice for a 10 year-old, it is a tradition.” [Note: another tidbit of wisdom from her, “Never get into a game of peekaboo with a 2 year old at the start of a 3 hour plane flight.”]
One of our oldest traditions is our Trojan-Spartan games.
On Saturday, all the new campers were initiated into one of the two teams and they competed yesterday. They will have another 3-hour competition on Wednesday. We stress to the campers that when we compete, we compete with enthusiasm and spirit. But once the games end, we are Trojans and Spartans no more and become (once again) cabinmates and champions.
But it is the initiation that I want to point to.
A mentor of mine once suggested that camp is a magic show and a great staff act as the magicians. The Trojan Spartan initiation is a classic piece of magic.
On its surface, it is just silly. Let me break it down for you.
- We are a bunch of children and college kids gathered in Central Texas.
- We are painting ourselves with body paint red (Spartan) or blue (Trojan) with body paint.
- We listen to the music from “Last of the Mohicans” for entry music.
- An adult, dressed in a robe and painted half red and half blue, paints the foreheads of new initiates. An adult.
- I read the history of the Trojan War as if it somehow corresponds to their reality.
- We speak in serious and majestic tones.
What does paint, Last of the Mohicans and central Texas have to do with Hellenic warriors?
Nope, I do not know either.
But if you do it right... If you hold the space and infuse the ritual with solemnity, the campers do not experience silliness, but something oddly profound.
They feel like they are part of something special and memorable.
If, however, you fail to hold the space, the inherent oddness becomes quickly evident. This is one reason the magician analogy works. If you see a magic trick poorly executed, you see the trick and you either laugh or feel sorry for the performer. But a really well-executed magic act is riveting.
On Saturday, your kiddos enjoyed a quality magic show.
King Menelaus of Sparta would be proud!