Here’s what I imagined: I’m wearing three layers of mismatched pyjamas, I have extra bags under my puffy eyes, and I’m unhappy about meandering through St Andrews in the dark. My friends and I are alone on the beach where several sparse groups of students are doing the same thing we are, in the same state we are. Grumpy, tired, unenthused, I dip my big toe into the water, collect my friends and my things, and go home. It’s like ripping off a cold, cold band aid, I guess. As someone who has a hard time keeping their expectations neutral, I wasn’t anticipating anything different from what I had imagined.
But when we got there, people were huddled around fires and the sun was beginning to colour the sky; the waves weren’t crashing, they were rolling towards us; and I thought to myself, maybe this won’t be so bad after all. People began to show up. The noise grew, and everything got warmer and more exciting. More and more bodies populated the beach, and soon those bodies were bare and hurtling towards the waves.
Somehow the students of St Andrews turned something that should be a festival of commiseration into an unabashed, youthful celebration. Something as nontangible as tradition can rouse hundreds of students from their homes to plunge their undercaffeinated selves into the bitter North Sea. Why do we do this? We realize how unappetizing the gist of May Dip sounds, right? We can blame tradition, masochism, or drunken folly for May Dip, but we can’t deny that the students, faculty, history, geography, and institutions of St Andrews have summoned a mass force. The power of tradition achieves the impossible year after year: getting university students out of bed, out of the house, and onto East Sands to dunk themselves into freezing water… and that’s it. As they say in the play Fiddler on the Roof, “Tradition, tradition! Tradition!” And they were right.