April 26, 2017

Gettin’ Pangy with it

Mount Holyoke College

You know you’re a Mount Holyoke student when, as the spring semester nears to a close, you start getting excited for Pangynaskeia Day. By putting it on your calendar. Mentioning it on social media. Hoping for sunny skies and warm temps. Digging out a favorite lawn blanket. All perhaps to the initial puzzlement of those beyond the College’s gates.

“What’s … that? What do you mean? Where are you going?” asks your younger sibling or high school friend or parent.

“Oh, it’s just a spring thing!” you reply with a smile. That smile of knowing that at Mount Holyoke, a bevy of fascinating and slightly curious traditions continues with reckless abandon.

Blog_Traditions_PangyDay_7.jpgDancing around the maypole, Pangy Day, 2016

Wait, how do you pronounce it?

A little something like this: “pawn goon ah SKAY ah.” (With a little practice, it really rolls off the tongue.)

Story time: take one

The story behind Pangynaskeia Day, which is held on the last Friday of classes in the spring semester, is nearly as long as its name.

But let’s start with the short version of Pangy Day, as it’s known. On this day, the College campus erupts in a flurry of festivity, energy and enthusiasm that only those who’ve weathered a long New England winter can truly appreciate.

Pangy Day 2016Pangy Day, 2016

There’s food, courtesy of a campus-wide picnic on Pageant Green, below Gettell Amphitheater. On Skinner Green, there’s a Ritual Maypole and Spiral Dance with colorful ribbons waiting to be braided. There’s music, games, face-painting and ice cream. There’s merriment and spreading of blankets for sitting and chatting and kicking back. There’s Frisbee-throwing and a sea of daisies. It’s part Earth Day, part May Day, part spring-fever-inspired hootenanny.

Pangy Day 1984Pangy Day, 1984

Story time: take two

The long version of Pangy Day depends on who you ask. Some might point to the inauguration of President Elizabeth Topham Kennan ’60 in 1978. The spring festivities in Kennan’s honor were so spectacular that a group of students, in true Mount Holyoke fashion, began almost immediately to plot a repeat celebratory occasion for the campus community.

They envisioned a spring weekend with music, sporting events, panel discussions, a parade and a picnic. Their vision, which they called Pangynaskeia Day, debuted in 1980 and has been shortened to both Pang Day and the more common Pangy Day.

Others point all the way back to 1837. Shortly before Mary Lyon opened the doors to her brand-new seminary, she wrestled with what to name it. A future trustee suggested a word compounded from three Greek words: Pangynaskeia. It loosely meant “whole woman making” or “cultivating the total world of women” and was quickly met with much sarcasm and eye-rolling, as perhaps was the intent (tongue, meet cheek?). But the name made enough of a splash to resurface some 140 years later.

May Day, 1903May Day, 1903

Still others might point to 1901. That’s when May Day, which had begun in the 1890s, was officially sanctioned as a College event. It involved the staging of elaborate drama club performances on Pageant Green, the decorating of a maypole and the selecting of a senior as May Queen.

A 1950s May DayFamilies attend a 1950s May Day

May Day continued on in some fashion until the late 1970s, by which time parents and families had long begun to take part in the festivities. To make it more convenient for families to attend, the tradition was moved to the fall and renamed Parents Day, the precursor to today’s Family and Friends Weekend.

And students, sensing the need for a springtime tradition, filled the void with Pangy Day. To cultivate the total world of College traditions. Well done!

Got Pangy? Learn More


The photos here, from 1898 to 1984, are courtesy of Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections. 

  • May Day, 1898
    May Day, 1898
  • May Day, circa 1898 – 1903
    May Day, circa 1898 – 1903
  • May Day queen and court, 1910
    May Day queen and court, 1910
  • May Day pageant, 1917
    May Day pageant, 1917
  • May Day crowd, 1917
    May Day crowd, 1917
  • May Day festivities, 1917
    May Day festivities, 1917
  • May Day drama, 1920
    May Day drama, 1920
  • May Day fairies take flight, 1921
    May Day fairies take flight, 1921
  • May Day queen, 1920s
    May Day queen, 1920s
  • May Day minstrels, 1921
    May Day minstrels, 1921
  • May Day king, queen and car, 1928
    May Day king, queen and car, 1928
  • May Day knights, 1928
    May Day knights, 1928
  • Canoe events during May Day, 1949
    Canoe events during May Day, 1949
  • Maypoles, 1950s
    Maypoles, 1950s
  • Pangy Day, 1982
    Pangy Day, 1982
  • Pangy Day, 2016
    Pangy Day, 2016
  • Pangy Day, 2016
    Pangy Day, 2016
  • A global view of Pangy Day, 2016
    A global view of Pangy Day, 2016
Mount Holyoke, a women’s college, is for ambitious, independent students from around the world who embrace complexity, cultivate curiosity and resolve to become agents of change. The tight-knit community is academically rigorous, intellectually adventurous and socially conscious. As one of the most diverse research liberal arts colleges in the United States, Mount Holyoke prepares students for leadership and cultural awareness on a global scale. Mount Holyoke graduates thrive in all fields, on all continents and in a vast array of languages.