Of Fire, Football and Flaming Couches…

So, the Michigan State University Spartans are Rose Bowl bound. That’s a really good thing. It’s been too many years since they had the opportunity to shine that way on a football field. We’re all happy here in East Lansing. What we’re not happy about is the stupid, dangerous and embarrassing practice of drunken student revelers who set fire to couches to “celebrate” wins or “mourn” sports losses. It’s obnoxious and it lands this town in the national news highlighting the hand full of idiots who do this, effectively taking away the bright shiny light that should be squarely on the kids who earned a spotlight with a stellar win in a tough competition.


Fire has always been a symbol and a tool for survival, transformation, protection, destruction and a host of other processes that are uniquely human when we employ its heat for our end goals. As far back as we can track, humans have gathered around fires for meals, councils, protection from predators and ceremonies. The mesmerizing qualities of fires, especially big ones, is commonly known. When you combine that hypnotic quality with a group of older teens and young adults, often fortified with alcohol who are primed to behave like idiots anyway, fire becomes a convenient and dangerous outlet when left in the hands of tall children.

So what do we do about it? I suggest we give couch burning the Roman Christmas Tree Treatment.

Christmas trees, pine boughs, holly and ivy were not originally Christian symbols. They were Druid/Pagan symbols. Druids worshipped their own nature deities outdoors. After the Roman invasion of Druid territories where sacred tree groves were cut down or burned to stop their worshipping, occupying soldiers found that Druids were secretly carrying branches and other bits of nature into their homes so they could continue their already centuries old traditions inside at the family hearth. Realizing they couldn’t stop every family from this practice, they embraced the practice and declared that the birth of Christ was to be celebrated at the same time of year (winter solstice). They began decorating their quarters with pine boughs and even creating wreathes made of pine instead of their traditional laurel from their homeland. They embraced the “problem” and over time completely redefined the practice so effectively that today, modern Christians will argue until they are blue in the face that “Christmas Trees”, celebrating the birth of Christ (an April baby according to research) at winter solstice has always been their own tradition. That’s how easily history is rewritten by the winners.

Here is my version of The Roman Christmas Tree Treatment for MSU’s pesky couch fire problem. Enter; Hephaestus’s Fire Circle. We have a cute Sparty mascot to cheer on the student athletes and others on campus and he’s perfect for the job. Funny, feisty, adorable, spirited and welcoming, Sparty is the man for all things P.G. and MSU. Who he isn’t is a symbol for all the other stuff that also smolders just below the surface of every gathering of “spirited” young people and that is unbridled passion and a big helping of stupid.

Not so long ago, college campuses regularly hosted pep rally bonfires. It was typically a homecoming tradition, and some schools continue the practice today. They continue even after a very unfortunate and avoidable tragedy at a Texas campus bonfire where several students died when their fifty nine foot high wedding cake structure of eighteen foot logs collapsed during construction.

First rule of Hephaestus’s Fire Circle: No fifty nine foot structures with eighteen foot logs.

Here’s how the new tradition would work. First, we need a Hephaestus. There are a ton of guys on campus who spend every free moment pumping iron in a gym somewhere so they can double as a Macy’s Parade Balloon Hercules. Get one of those guys. Have a contest and let the girl’s chose him. That guarantees female participation and like every bar owner worth their salt knows, where it’s ladies night, guys show up. Put him in an ancient Greek costume with a leather iron worker’s apron and he will be the host of the fire circle.

Cordon off a massive circle area somewhere south on campus and add low fencing around it keeping revelers back several feet from the large central fire. Between the revelers and the fire, there should be a circular mound of sand going all the way around the fire. Fraternities, sororities, campus groups, apartment complex residents, rental home housemates and any other groups that would like to be a part of the event can sign up on line to bring an object they have created to burn in Hephaestus’s Fire.

Last night, they could have brought a large Buckeye effigy made of paper, wood or other burnable material. Onlookers comprise the farthest ring and possibly sit in bleachers for a better view. Participants gather with their cohorts around the circle outside the barriers. The circle moves clockwise. The first group’s representative steps up and presents their object to Hephaestus who examines it, announces to the crowd what it is and then ceremoniously tosses it onto the bonfire. He can pound a big sledge hammer on an anvil to make a lot of noise while the crowd cheers. The circle moves clockwise again allowing the second group to present their object and so on until all groups gathered around the circle have been addressed and all objects burned. When the last object is burned, there is music and entertainment and then the fire is extinguished when the sand that surrounds the fire is shoveled on to it by hundreds of fire volunteers. The public disperses and the fire volunteers complete the extinguishing process until it is deemed completely out.

Campus gets a brand new tradition and a way to bring kids together in a safe celebration. Kids get to burn stuff. Win-Win. It’s the Roman Christmas Tree Treatment. If you can’t beat them, join them…and guide them to safety. I’m just sayin…