Featured Reed Tradition: Nitrogen Day

Photo Courtesy of Monograph Bookwerks

As Reedies, today we unfortunately find ourselves in an odd transitionary period of Reed College’s history. The phrase “olde Reed is dead” has been employed so constantly over the decades as to make it almost meaningless. However, it is undeniable that we are struggling to keep some of Reed’s most unique and beloved traditions alive. In the interest of keeping these festivities going in the (hopefully) near future when we can do so at full capacity, the Quest wants to give the post-COVID student body a little heads up about some of the traditions they’ve missed out on so far. 

One of the most prominent is the celebration of Nitrogen Day, a tradition so quintessentially odd that it made Thrillist’s list of “11 Bizarre Campus Traditions.” Nitrogen Day started in a similar manner to most Reed traditions; a group of friends started talking about how nuts it would be to dedicate a day to the element Nitrogen. Eventually, this tongue-in-cheek suggestion became a staple of the Reed calendar, complete with brass band, Dippin Dots, and Nitrogen-Infused Ale. Usually taking place on the last Thursday before Renn Fayre, every Nitrogen Day since its inception has been labeled as the 7th annual Nitrogen Day, a nod to Nitrogen Day’s place as the 7th element on the periodic table.

The often overlooked and hardly notable element appealed to the day’s founders, stoking everyone’s instincts to root for the underdog. The first Nitrogen Day celebration in 1992 featured a band called “Just Say N to O,” and ceremonial gatherings titled “In Nitrogen We Trust,” and “Ode to Nitrogen and its Triple Bond,” as well as a cookout on the lawn. Over the years, Nitrogen Day has become somewhat less elaborate, often involving dunking household items in liquid nitrogen and reciting haikus in honor of the 7th element. 

To post-pandemic Reedies such as myself, these traditions can seem like a lost relic of the Before Times. However, every interruption is an opportunity for a reinvention — so let’s hope that we can bring back Nitrogen Day this year and make it even weirder. 

On the topic of traditions, the folks in the Reed Special Collections Archives are putting together an exhibit and zine about Reed traditions. They’re hoping to get information from both current students and alumni, so if you have any stories or photos of Reed traditions, you can find a link to their google form on their Instagram @reedspecialcollections.

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