By Torrey Culbertson, ’22
“Celebrating Oktoberfest at the college is wonderfully humane.” Dr. Sara Kitzinger perfectly sums up a beloved autumn tradition of Thomas More College. Every year the student body joins our resident German Fellow, Dr. Denis Kitzinger, in the long preparations for the feasting. From midmorning to the beginning of the celebration, students cut onions, peel potatoes, slice apples for the kucken, make soft pretzels and grill sausages, hang blue and white Bavarian streamers, and engage in numerous other tasks in preparation for the big night. As the ring master is to the circus, so Dr. Kitzinger is to the student body, standing in the middle of the chaos, patiently and expertly guiding the flock of students to the good and proper completion of each task. At the end of it all, the mingling aromas emanating from the cafeteria draw in students, faculty and their families, friends of the school, and alumni alike, dressed festively in their dirndl and lederhosen.
The night commences with Dr. Kitzinger leading traditional songs and chants, filling the cafeteria with boisterous laughter and the rich booming of German music. Each person consumes their fill of four different kinds of sausages—including the traditional weisswurst with sweet mustard—sauerkraut, potatoes, mustard, pretzels, and, for those of age, the College’s own home-brewed red ale, courtesy of Mr. Daniel Leahy, Resident Director.
“Through this celebration, we continue the traditions and customs of the European past and make them present anew”—Dr. Sara Kitzinger
As the night progresses, there are speeches, joyous conversations, and much, much more singing. Everyone joins in reverently singing Großer Gott, wir loben dich (“Holy God, We Praise Thy Name”), giving glory to the Author of our Feast. After all this eating and singing, the most highly-anticipated event begins: the Games. Each year the classes, alumni, and faculty all compete head to head in three traditional German games: Steinstemmen (“stein holding”), Hammerschlagen (“hammer striking”), and Fingerhakeln (“finger wrestling”). Perhaps the wildest part of the night was the heated final match of Fingerhakeln between senior Joseph Dionne, and our very own Academic Dean Walter J. Thompson. The crowd had reached such a high pitch of spiritedness that one could feel the very beams of the ceiling shaking with all the cheers, clapping, and singing.
After the fervor of the games had finally died down, the assembled community joined in singing a final verse of Großer Gott, wir loben dich. The tables were cleared away, and the rest of the night was spent in dancing and singing and merriment. The annual event is rooted in Dr. Kitzinger’s “love for his home and village traditions,” says Mrs. Kitzinger. But Oktoberfest embodies Thomas More College’s larger commitment to festivity, cultural preservation, and cultural renewal: “Through this celebration,” she adds, “we continue the traditions and customs of the European past and make them present anew.”