To celebrate or not to celebrate the lustrum? “Celebrating the lustrum suits the person Erasmus well”

A group of people are looking at the art on the wall.
Students and staff are standing in front of a big cake.

Our university is celebrating its 110th anniversary this year: our 22nd lustrum. To celebrate this milestone, all kinds of activities are being organised. But is it important to celebrate milestones like these, or not? Ronald van Raak, professor of Erasmian values, and Gijs van Oenen, associate professor of cultural philosophy, explain their visions. “Celebrating an anniversary together shows that you are part of a community.”

Every five years, the university celebrates the lustrum. With the 22nd lustrum, Erasmus University Rotterdam is actually celebrating two anniversaries in one: the foundation of the Netherlands School of Commerce (Nederlandsche Handels-Hoogeschool, NHH) in 1913 and Erasmus University Rotterdam in 1973. From the huge cake handed out at the Dies Natalis, to the unveiling of a mural. There is something for everyone on the lustrum programme.

Woman hands out cake for 110th anniversary EUR.
Alexander Santos Lima

Essential for any community

Celebrating the lustrum, also called a ritual or tradition, is essential for any community, as far as Professor Ronald van Raak is concerned. “We are connected through academic networks, but on campus we often hardly know about each other's activities. I see the anniversary celebrations as a great opportunity to come together.”

On the other hand, Gijs van Oenen, associate professor of cultural philosophy, looks at lustrum celebrations with a critical eye. “Traditions are actually something from a bygone era, from before modern times,” he notes. “In cultural philosophy, it is also said that you cannot do something anymore merely because it is tradition. You have to want to continue the tradition itself or not, so traditions in itself do not exist.” With this, Van Oenen emphasises that whether or not something is celebrated should not depend on whether it is considered a tradition.

A group of people are walking towards the Erasmus gallery.
Erasmus, the man, the myth, the legend - 24 October 2023 - Woudestein Campus
Arie Kers

Using the past as inspiration for the present

Van Raak also notes that when we think of traditions, we often think of things from the past. But, he adds, “Traditions change every time we celebrate them. And every lustrum celebration is different from the past. So, this one will also be shaped differently by the Erasmians of today.” 

“It also fits well with the person Erasmus,” he continues. “As a philosopher, Erasmus was very concerned with traditions and with writers from classical antiquity, thinkers from centuries ago. He wanted to use those traditions to reflect on his own time and use the past as inspiration for the present.”

Often, when we think of a term like celebrating, we think of big parties where the booze flows lavishly. But when you talk about its deeper meaning, according to Gijs van Oenen, you end up with the concept of celebrating, which comes from the Latin word ‘celeber’ and refers to ‘much used or crowded’. “You can compare it to a market where people usually gather, giving it a certain status. Therefore, just coming together is a celebration in and of itself.”

Colleagues are sitting and talking to each other on the table while eating breakfast.
New Year’s Breakfast, 11 January 2024, Sports Building

From that perspective, he wonders what makes celebrating the 22nd lustrum so special. “We get together on campus anyway. With celebrating the lustrum, in a way you leave something behind, which is the substantive work. We focus on the ceremonial aspect and only observe the forms that the content normally belongs to.”

Very little left to be impressed by

Van Oenen admits that he himself attaches little value to all the lustrum activities being organised on campus this year. “It is not that I do not value the history of the university, quite the contrary, but if you look at these kinds of ritual activities, for example the Dies Natalis, it is not about the content but about the form.”

For him, ceremonial activities no longer have the meaning they used to have. “We used to live much more in an authoritarian society. Everything is much more democratised now. There is very little left to be impressed by and I think that’s why something like a lustrum celebration is also becoming less interesting for people,” says Van Oenen.

Professor Annelien Bredenoord in toga in front of a primary school class.

Follow the spirit of the times

Of course, everyone is free not to go to a lustrum activity, but Ronald van Raak highly recommends it to everyone. “It’s good to meet up occasionally and feel connected. That’s what these kinds of traditions are for.”

In that sense, you can also see celebrating a lustrum as a form of an Erasmian value, he notes. “Celebrating a lustrum together has a value and shows that you are part of a community. I think as a staff member or student, it is nice to know that you are part of a tradition. You are not only connected to the present at such moments, but also to the past. By putting these kinds of celebrations back-to-back, you can see a nice development and follow the spirit of the times.”

Van Raak himself is looking forward to the lustrum activity Meet the Professor the most. During this event, he and several other professors in togas will ride their bicycles to a primary school to teach, he enthuses. “Of course, it is strange to go to a primary school in a toga on a bicycle. But that’s just the fun of it. You base yourself on an old tradition but give it a modern twist. As a result, you often get fun conversations with people. In this you also see how tradition and innovation can come together.”

Associate professor
More information

The lustrum year runs from summer 2023 to the end of the academic year in summer 2024. Curious? Check out the programme.

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