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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Burn to build again: Bonfire 2022 in 2023

Aggies+rally+at+the+student+bonfire+on+Saturday%2C+Jan.+21%2C+2023.
Photo by Bridget Bristow

Aggies rally at the student bonfire on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023.

During a cold January night, thousands of people gathered around a four-story-high stack, standing in the mud, waiting to see it set ablaze. As a grand finale to months of hard work, Aggies set out to “Burn the Hell Outta” Student Bonfire on Saturday, Jan. 21.

The tradition of Bonfire at Texas A&M began in 1907, first as a celebration after the Aggies beat Tulane in a football game. Since then, the gathering has undergone a variety of changes, developing a signature tiered shape, growing in size and changing locations various times. 

The most notable change for Bonfire was the transition from being an on-campus, university sponsored event, to an off-campus unofficial event following the Bonfire Collapse of 1999

Typically, Burn is hosted in preparation for the Thanksgiving week game against LSU, but, due to unsafe weather, Burn was rescheduled for January to prepare the site for a safe event. Presently, the organization is in the process of finding a new home for stack, following the sale of the current plot to land developers, which was announced Aug. 4, 2022.

Despite changing conditions, the spirit of Student Bonfire has remained strong off-campus since 2002, as students spend an entire year cutting, loading, stacking and, finally, burning Bonfire. 

On Burn night, the typically empty field surrounding the stack is filled as a circle of cars, food trucks and music grows over the course of the day and into night.

On Saturday, hundreds of Aggies of all ages gathered to celebrate Burn, hosting barbecues, playing music and enjoying the cool weather. For members like engineering sophomore Callie Baker, a 2022 Neeley crew chief, Burn is a time for celebration and reflection.

“It really is a culmination of the whole season,” Baker said. “We put hours and hours of work into this, and it’s cathartic to see it go up in flames.”

Baker’s fellow Neeley crew chief, business administration sophomore Savannah Neal, agreed and said Burn is a time to celebrate, especially among her friends and crew.

“It’s a big release. It’s really fun, because everyone’s here and you get to see everyone you’ve hung out with all season and meet their parents,” Neal said. “It’s a really big event, and the flame is really cool too.” 

Baker said joining Student Bonfire was as easy as eating lunch with current members and then showing up to help build. She said the family feeling is the main reason she recommends the organization to her peers.

“We lived on Northside near Neeley, and we would walk by it every day, because [the dorm] was between us and the parking garage,” Baker said. “One day, [Student Bonfire members] invited us to go eat with them and then we were in … It’s really a family, I would recommend it to anybody. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Neal also described a strong feeling of camaraderie, which she said makes the organization a welcoming environment.

“There’s a place for everyone here, no matter who you are or where you come from you can always find a group at Bonfire,” Neal said.

Student Bonfire currently stands 45 feet tall during construction. During the final stages of preparation, the center pole is cut to 37 feet and the outhouse — this year’s decorated with purple and gold — is placed on top. Once lit, the flames extend far past the highest point of the pole, sending ash and embers over a wide area. 

High school senior Garrett Ridgeway attended Burn in support of his older brother, and said the Bonfire’s spiral motion of collapse was what he was most excited about seeing.

“My brother loves Bonfire and he’s been doing this, cutting down trees, for two years now,” Ridgeway said. “I heard that there’s this thing when it twists [as it collapses] and I find that really cool.”

In addition to current members of Student Bonfire, many former students were in attendance, particularly those that helped build past Bonfires.

One former student, Dahniella Chavez, Class of 2017, said Student Bonfire was one of the most rewarding experiences of her college years, as she made long-lasting relationships. Chavez said attending Burn as a former student is a chance to reminisce and see old friends. 

“I met my husband in Student Bonfire when we were freshmen,” Chavez said. “A lot of our friends have done this and met their significant others. For us, this is like a family reunion. It’s more than just an event, it means a lot that we’re here and get to check in with each other.”

When asked about advice for interested current students, Chavez said to ask members about their experiences and to take a chance on Student Bonfire.

“Talk to someone who is passionate [about Student Bonfire] because they’re going to tell you all the good stuff, but also talk to someone who is casual, because they’ll be honest with you,” Chavez said. “It’s not for everyone, it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but whatever you put in, you get out … Give it a chance, because you’ll get dirty and be smelly, but it’s a lot of fun and you’ll make good memories.”

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