Absolute Pandemonium

Pandemonium 2011 has begun! No, I’m not referring to the general state of fun and excitement that exists at camp pretty much all day, every day, but 1st session’s color wars extravaganza, called Pandemonium. A gloriously warm summer night ushered in the magical, secret ceremony that kicks off the two-day event. Because it’s a special camp secret, we can’t tell you the details of course. But, we can tell you that the ceremony is really, really cool and that it helps bring the whole camp together in the spirit of unity and fun that pervades every aspect of the Pandemonium experience.

Pandemonium centers around one of our favorite sayings here at camp: “Color Your Days Bright.” The phrase is painted on signs, printed on t-shirts, and repeated almost daily here. It so perfectly sums up what Birch Trail is all about, and seeing the campers integrate that philosophy into what they do at, and take away from camp brings me great joy. During Pandemonium, the entire camp takes a two-day hiatus from projects and the regular schedule for some special events. While there is the usual brand of color-coordinated-to-the-extreme outfits, lots of singing and cheering, and funny games, there is also the constant and underlying theme of “Color Your Days Bright.” The whole camp divides up into five teams: Red Hearts, Orange Suns, Yellow Stars, Green Clovers, and Blue Fish.

The entire camp woke up feeling ready to take on Pandemonium with gusto! After dressing in their team colors, each camper met up with her Pandemonium team to learn cheers and get to know their team members. Teams are purposely created to offer a diverse, melting-pot style roster of campers and staff so that everyone has a chance to branch out and meet people of different age groups and backgrounds. By this mid-point of the session, the cabin groups have come together really well. Each cabin group will have experienced the minor ups and downs of living together by now, and about half of the cabins have gone on their cabin trips. The purpose of those cabin trips is to not only show campers the joys of exploring nature, but also to create a shared experience amongst their own little unit to bond them together.

After the cabins and villages have had these opportunities to feel really comfortable and friendly on the smaller community scale, our color wars event is a great way to broaden that scale a bit. Though of course we have a lot of great, all-camp events throughout the session, the Pandemonium teams offer a fantastic way for campers to make new friends without being overwhelmed by camp’s all-together size. While decorating their team’s site, preparing for the fun and games, and learning cheers, everyone gets to hang out with people they might not cross paths with on a regular day. And in a phenomenal show of in-camp networking, we’ve found that these new, Pandemonium-inspired friendships have a waterfall effect; when one camper meets a friend in their color wars team, they can then introduce their whole cabin to that new friend, and so on, making the whole community infinitely more interconnected.

Color wars have a long and rich tradition in the summer camp world, with most camps adapting their own individual style and beliefs into their version of color wars. Ours is very typically Birch Trail, with enough songs, chants, and cheers written just for these two days to fill an entire songbook, as well as a whole new world of color-specific accessorizing. But beyond the fun and events, the outfits and accessories, and yes, even beyond the singing, is one very important and very BT element: the concept that everyone is a winner at Birch Trail.

True, Pandemonium is technically a competition, but it’s one that is never taken too seriously. In fact, we believe that a decidedly non-competitive environment is best for our campers. Still, a little bit of healthy, fun-based competition suits us every now and again. In order to keep things from getting too serious, we make sure that teams are not only scored on their athletic prowess or skills (who placed first in the relay race or who sang the loudest cheer) but also on their sportsmanship and team support. The phrase “Everyone is a winner at Birch Trail” might seem cheesy to some kids and maybe even some parents, but when repeated often enough, I notice that the message really does sink in here. Everyone acts like a winner, and everyone feels like a winner.

Yesterday was Pandemonium’s prep day and though there was a great deal of planning and cheer-learning, we managed to revise the days schedule to accommodate more water-based activities since we’ve had such warm weather. Today’s exciting stream of relays, activities, and singing will culminated in a special, campfire-side closing ceremony. After two days of color-divided cabins, schedule upheaval, and general chaos, when the festivities come to a close tonight, everyone will go back to their cabins, change into jammies, and resume normal BT life as if none of the Pandemonium competition ever mattered. And in truth, the Pandemonium teams, colors, cheers, events, judges, leaders, rules, and competition don’t matter. All that remains will be the memories, the pictures, and the new friendships that have become the lasting products of Pandemonium. Did you ever imagine that absolute Pandemonium could lead to such incredible things?

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