This is a time of celebration in Cambridge. It Is the end of the academic year, and all that goes with it. After weeks of stress leading to a series of punishing exams, the relief can be felt all over town. Last week there was the Bumps. Soon we’ll be seeing graduations aplenty. But for right now we’re into May Week. And we at the Varsity Hotel Cambridge love May Week.
May week is another of those ridiculous Cambridge traditions which make no sense on the surface but works just fine anyway. Given the name, you might reasonably expect it to cover a certain week in the month of May. Instead it’s more like a week and a half in the middle of June. Go figure.
But in context it does make sense. Sort of, anyway. The three terms of the Cambridge academic calendar are Michaelmas, Lent and May. So the “May” refers not to the month but to the term. And originally it was just a week long. But over time new Colleges have been founded, new excuses for parties have arisen, and the week has extended a little.
But what is May Week? Simply put, May Week is the grand finale at the end of the academic year. The big party and final farewell, consisting of numerous Balls, garden parties and other events. A chance for everyone to let their hair down and have a big blowout before the summer holidays. And naturally, we’re talking fancy parties.
The heart of May Week are the May Balls. These are run and organised by the individual Colleges and held on their grounds. The largest and wealthiest of Colleges run one every year, while smaller Colleges hold one only every other year. These Balls are special, quirky and unique – just like Cambridge.
The dress code is typically black tie, although you’ll occasionally see a white tie one as well. The queues are long and it can take over an hour to get in. But that hardly matters since May Balls run all night – from 9pm to 6am. Though few make it all the way to morning, those that do can take part in the prestigious Survivors photo.
In any given May Ball you’ll see a huge array of food and drinks stalls, covering all sorts of food and beverage types, changing throughout the night. There will be live bands and headline acts. Dancing of all types. A grand fireworks display.
And those are just the standard, entry level expectations. Every year the Colleges try to come up with something new, interesting and different. From standup comedians to hypnosis; massage treatment to temporary tattoo artists; plus music and entertainment from an ever growing array of genres.
They’ll be going on all May Week, within striking distance of the Varsity Hotel.