The Great Pumpkin Sacrifice at the University of New Brunswick began in 1973 when two students living in Harrison House decided to throw a pumpkin off the lounge roof on Halloween night. Other residents of Harrison liked the idea and decided to do it again the following year.
Now 45 years in the making, the Great Pumpkin Sacrifice is the longest-running tradition in residence in all of Canada, according to this year’s event coordinators.
But what started off as a simple pumpkin toss off the roof has transformed into an elaborate ceremony with a deeper meaning.
According to event coordinator and fourth-year student Jacob Cormier, the ceremony is “like some nightmarish parade” and a “mystifying spectacle.”
Halloween night attracts Harrison House students, dressed in dark robes and masked with face paint, carrying a giant pumpkin across campus to the Lady Dunn, Joy Kidd and Mary K. Tibbits residence complex. There, the pumpkin is blessed so it can be sacrificed to the two-faced, Roman god, Janus.
Third-year student and coordinator Amanda Short said the pumpkin is sacrificed to the god “in hopes of a good academic harvest.” Once the pumpkin is blessed, the students carry the pumpkin back to Harrison where they sacrifice it around 10 p.m., by throwing it off the same roof.
“Usually, it’s 100 to 120 people participating from our house,” Cormier said.
“There’s a lot of moving parts that makes it all work well together.”
Both Cormier and Short say the ceremony is more than just an event. As Cormier says, “It’s our baby, it’s our soul.”
Planning the Great Pumpkin Sacrifice is a tradition for Harrison House and helps the residents feel like a family since everyone is working together to pull off the big night.
Cormier estimates that the sacrifice attracts around 600 people from both the UNB and St. Thomas University campuses.
With that many people, Short says they deal with a lot of people shouting, “Pumpkins have rights too!” and questioning if the ceremony is a form of hazing.
However, she said she and the other participants don’t let the comments get to them.
“They just want to be a part of it, or at least get our attention, but we’re too focused on the big gourd herself,” Cormier said.
Aside from the hecklers, most people attending the event always seem to have a good time.
“One of my favourite things is to see the reaction of the crowds of onlookers. They have this mixed feeling of awe … but also they’re just terrified because they don’t want to stand too close because we’re all creepy.”
For second-year UNB student Miriam Amirault, the Great Pumpkin Sacrifice is more than just a good night out with friends. Since the tradition has been around for 45 years, it has also allowed her to connect with her father.
“It’s pretty cool knowing that my dad, who went to UNB, got to see [the sacrifice] in the ‘90s and now I get to see it,” Amirault said.
“I think it’s just wholesome fun that you get to do on Halloween and it’s keeping people on campus, not going out and doing anything reckless I guess. You’re just having some fun.”
Cormier says that the ceremony happens rain or shine.
“It’s a fun thing. Grab your friends and just spend a little bit of time, it’s super cool to watch.”