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Birthdays at Pemi

What could be better than getting to celebrate your birthday once a year, every year? How about celebrating it three times! If your birthday happens to fall during the Pemi season, that’s often exactly what you get! Pemi campers get their birthday celebrated on the day itself, during the Birthday Banquet, and then typically again in some form once they’re back home after the summer. While we can’t speak to what that final celebration looks like, we’re happy to share the experience of having a Pemi birthday with you here.

On Your Birthday

We know that birthdays are a big deal in the life of a child. Maybe they’ve finally made it to double digits, maybe they’re a teenager now, or maybe there’s some special privilege back home that comes with an added year of wisdom and maturity. We also know that it can be tough being away from family on a birthday and that this can turn a happy occasion into a bittersweet one for some boys. With that in mind, we provide each birthday boy (and woman and man) with a few special moments, but we try not to go overboard with it.

At lunch on a camper’s birthday, his counselors, cabinmates, and friends will lead the Mess Hall in the traditional Pemi cheer followed by calling his name three times. The only other times that individual names are shouted out in this fashion at Pemi are in recognition of significant accomplishments – completing a distance swim or attaining your Pemi Bronze/Silver/Gold – so it’s a big deal. Boys get to hear a crowd 200+ strong cheering just for them, in celebration of their big day. It can provide a real confidence boost and a sense of recognition, especially for younger boys who not only see all of the older campers and staff hailing them but who then get birthday wishes from all those folks throughout the rest of the day!

Christian and George ring the bell for their 10th birthday!

At the end of the meal, the birthday celebrant sends us all on our way by ringing the bell. Meals at Pemi traditionally end when the director leading that meal’s announcements rings the bell to dismiss the Mess Hall. On a boy’s birthday however, he comes up to the front of the Mess Hall and stands under the bell – our younger campers typically need the assistance of a bench to help reach it. The full community counts down from whatever age the camper is turning (i.e. on a boy’s 14th birthday, it’s a countdown starting with 14), and after we hit “one!” he rings the bell. Boys get a loud cheer at this point, and everyone goes on their way. If two or more boys share a birthday, we’ll repeat this ceremony at dinner. Sometimes, when two boys turn the same age on the same day, they’ll choose to share the moment, and we’ll have them ring us out together at the same meal. We love seeing this camaraderie and selflessness!

The Birthday Banquet

The parade of birthday cakes!

To close out the first session, we hold our annual Birthday Banquet. While dining on a delicious feast of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, bread, salad, and, of course, birthday cake, we again celebrate all community members present who have a summer birthday. Our art staff makes beautiful posters with the name of each birthday boy and girl, and the trip counselors hang these from the beams in the Mess Hall for all to see. The kitchen crew bakes cakes from scratch for each and every table, and the waiters parade them around – doing their best to not let the candles blow out – to the tune of “Happy Birthday” on the piano.

Birthday greetings from Spain!

With full stomachs, we then turn to the next phase of the celebration: birthday greetings. Campers and staff offer birthday greetings from around the nation and world, in different languages, and on behalf of different institutions and groups. These can be traditional greetings from a camper’s home country, musical renditions of birthday songs from various cultures, or tongue-in-cheek offerings such as last year’s birthday greeting from Ohio that lightly mocked their interstate rivals from Michigan. It’s a wonderful opportunity to celebrate birthdays and the incredible diversity of our community.

The final birthday recognitions take the place of individual birthday limericks, written and recited by the Bean Soup editors (with help from Tom Reed of The Limerick Project). I’ll turn it over to the 2022 Bean Soup editors to describe the process:

Bean Soup editors Dan and Matt read a birthday limerick for Finn!
We enjoin you to hush up now, folks, 
While we take a few slanderous pokes
At each birthday guest here.
Just recall that good cheer
Can include some embarrassing jokes...
It’s the custom at Pemi, you know,
At the big Birthday Banqueting Show,
For the birthday elite
To stand up on their seat
As we read them their poems. Okay? Go! 

The “birthday elite” stand on their bench when their name is called, and the editors read a personal limerick that might highlight an area of achievement, recognize a particular passion, or, in the spirit of Bean Soup, poke some lighthearted fun at them. The Mess Hall rings out with laughter and cheers, and boys stand grinning from ear to ear on their benches, soaking in the moment.

It might seem daunting, especially ahead of a first summer, to celebrate a birthday away from home. In fact, it’s one of the most asked questions we get from new campers. If you’ve been feeling that way, hopefully this run-down of our Pemi traditions helps put your mind at ease that your big day will be celebrated not just once, but twice at camp! As boys continue their Pemi journeys, birthdays tend to switch from a source of slight anxiety to a moment to look forward to. And if you’re really lucky, you just might get to celebrate your 100th birthday at Pemi!

–  Pat Clare

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