Two Saturdays ago the cafeteria of Thomas More College was transformed into a worthy imitation of a German beergarten. After a busy afternoon of slicing apples for streusel, hanging wreaths, and laying out long trestle tables, the students, faculty, and their families sat down to an evening of feasting and festivities at the College’s annual Oktoberfest.
Hosted by Professors Denis and Sara Kitzinger, Oktoberfest is always a hilarious event, in the sense of hilaritas, real and infectious merriment. The happy chatter of those present was supplemented by the throbbing oom-pom-pa of a polka band, and for those of age, a pint or two was not out of the question. The evening opening with a solemn note as Father Healey led grace in English, only to be followed by Mr. Kitzinger in his native German. After a brief moment of devotion, the attention of the company was turned to the feast which was being prepared all afternoon in the kitchen. The smell of sizzling sausages, potatoes, and sauerkraut filled the air as people returned to their seats with full plates—which were not slow in being emptied of their contents.
After the feasting itself slackened off, the time came for schunkeling. What is schunkeling, you might ask? Whatever it is, it’s a German thing. Locking arms along the length of the trestle tables, you sway back, forth, side to side with your neighbors, accompanied by traditional drinking songs. At the end come toasts to the whole company. The only trouble with this is that it’s hard to keep from falling off your chair in laughter. And after schunkeling? Three contests, undertaken by a representative of each class.
The first was steinstemmen—the challenge of having hold a full stein at arms length for the longest time possible. Although senior Joshua Keatley seemed to be undefeated at two minutes and 49 seconds, victory fell to Mr. John McCarthy, representing the faculty at two minutes and 49.9 seconds. The second contest was more a test of accuracy then endurance, as each representative tried to send a nail into a stump at one hammer stroke. After the third and highly entertaining contest of fingergammen— “finger wrestling”—the official festivities settled into a satisfied dwindling down of conversation and dessert. The evening concluded with the tables being pushed aside in order to make room for dancing: polka, waltzing, and a few favorite country dances such as the Virginia Reel.
In between books, classes, and exams, festivity is a recognized necessity for the students of Thomas More College. As an institution dedicated to the pursuit 0f academic and personal excellence, and as a community with a single aim, occasions such as Oktoberfest serve to bring the whole college together in a spirit of joyful, concrete reflection on the nature of the good life. Everyone needs to schunkel now and then, mein herr.