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Merton’s Annual ‘Time Ceremony’: A Very Oxford Tradition

By Grace Walters

Considering that Oxford is an institution teeming with unique traditions at every corner, it seems bold to say that Merton’s Time Ceremony is unique by even Oxford’s standards - but it certainly is.

To summarise it, Time Ceremony occurs whenever the clocks go backwards, and students at Merton College (Mertonians) assemble to ‘preserve the space-time continuum’. They achieve this, namely, by putting on full ‘sub fusc’ - academic dress, so gowns, bowties, and neck ribbons - to link arms on Fellow’s Quad at 2am. They then walk entirely backwards for an hour, so that the session ends at the exact time it technically started: 2am, once again. At every corner, arms are locked as groups spin chaotically (and still backwards). Also, water bottles of port are carried, or else any dark red liquid you’d like. It’s a chaotic, bustling, laughter-filled affair, and each year is something the whole college looks forward to.

This tradition began in the 1970s, when a group of students decided to start their own tradition; though only a handful of students participated, it’s gained traction over the years, to the extent that it’s now a staple of the Michaelmas calendar, and the whole Fellow’s Quad is teeming with laughing students.

Time Ceremony is a bizarre event, and quite difficult to encapsulate in a short summary. But I think it’s a perfect example for the kind of strange-but-unforgettable, action-packed, unique affairs which Oxford holds as its traditions. As much as Oxford is certainly a place of academic excellence, of beautiful libraries and respected professors, it’s equally a place which takes great pride in the quality of its social calendar, and in the memorable quality of its events.


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