Homecoming is next month, which means the mum craze has already hit the Lake Travis area. If you’re from Texas, you know all about this time-honored tradition. If you’re a non-Texan like me, hold onto your hats! Homecoming mums are a wild, theatrical ride.
I’ve lived in Texas since 1999, and I can honestly say there have only been two quirky things about the Lone Star state that surprised me. First, fire ants — those ferocious, little devils. Second, the homecoming mum tradition. When I first learned about mums, I thought Lake Travis residents were just being dramatic.
Surely corsages don’t hang down to the floor and cost $500. That’s absurd.
When my best friend showed me a photo of her daughter at homecoming, I was gobsmacked. In fact, my exact words were, “Are you #@$%*ing kidding me?!?”
Pictured was a beautiful face with a bright smile, flowing mermaid hair and the dress — wait, I can’t see the dress…?
It was like if Hobby Lobby married a SWAT team and they made a ballistic shield together. I expected to see a literal mum, but the “mum” was a mammoth concoction of flowers with crazy ribbons and fluffy stuff cascading down to the floor. Her dress was completely hidden. She looked like a human float in a unicorn parade.
Upon further inspection, I noticed the mum wasn’t just decorated with flowers and ribbons, there were crafty objects in there too, like someone had tacked on tiny dollhouse decor for good measure. My friend quickly reassured me that her daughter loved her mum. This is totes normal — it’s how they “do mums” in Texas.
My homecoming days in Richmond, Virginia, were mum-free. We only had basic corsages and we didn’t even like those. They flopped around and the wrist ones had scratchy elastic bands. Has anyone ever experienced a sprig of pokey holly leaves on a wrist corsage or a boutonniere? It’s painful.
As an outsider, I had lots of questions.
Is a teenager’s core strength capable of withstanding the weight of these things? I mean, some of these mums weigh 20-30 pounds!
Are the mums rigged with some kind of invisible pulley system beneath that flimsy neck ribbon to counterbalance the weight?
How did this mum madness all begin anyway?
Missouri tradition with a Texas twist
According to the NCAA, the homecoming tradition can be traced back to the University of Missouri in 1911, when the athletic director encouraged alumni to attend a football game. The incentive he used to bolster attendance was the promise of huge parties with pep rallies and celebrations. This was known as the first homecoming.
In Texas, boys gifted their homecoming dates with a chrysanthemum. While the mum started out as a corsage, by the 1970s it started getting more elaborate.
Today, it’s a rite of passage. Boys gift homecoming dates with gargantuan mums they can wear to festivities during Homecoming weekend. The girls gift their dates with sleeve garters, which are equally ornate, just smaller.
“I grew up in Lake Travis and mums have always been a big tradition, but it has taken a ridiculous turn,” laughs Alison DeStefano, LT native, photographer, and dance instructor at Body Lab. “I was a Cavalette, so we all had matching mums from our moms and then one from our homecoming date — I had to wear one mum on each side!”
When Alison graduated from Lake Travis high school in 1997, she said mums were about the size of salad plates with long ribbons. They weren’t very heavy, so you could pin them on with no trouble. Mums typically had a flower on the top and trinkets in the middle that reflected your interests and the ribbons had names on them. There was a method to the mum madness.
When she was a junior in high school, Kristen Hagarty, Lake Travis resident and Cavalette Booster Club Officer, moved to Katy, Texas, from Monterey, California. “It was a major mum town,” said Kristen. When homecoming rolled around her then boyfriend (now husband) explained the quirky and complicated mum tradition to her.
Kristen recalls, “On the day we all wore them to school for Homecoming Friday, I thought it was so funny that we had all this crazy ribbon rustling going on and cowbell sounds ringing throughout the hallways during passing period. I felt like we were a bunch of cattle moving through the corridors with our prize bows on and our bells ringing.”
Silly but sweet
Even though the homecoming mum tradition seems out of control, it makes meaningful memories. Although Alison laughed and called it “ridiculous,” she still has all eight of her homecoming mums stored in her attic. “I loved them when I was in school. I proudly displayed them on the wall in my bedroom,” she says. (Three of her old mums are pictured above.)
Kristen adds, “I still have the Senior mum that he gave me! Nowadays I love that our son and daughter are also able to experience this truly Texas and truly sweet tradition as well.”
And that’s one to grow on
I’ve gotta give props to Texans for figuring out how to transform a single mum into a fanciful formality that spans the generations. Not every state can accomplish that feat. If they had been a thing in Virginia when I was in high school, mine would’ve been decorated with holly leaves and ham biscuits with wooden letters that spelled “HELP!”
Image courtesy Alison DeStefano Photography
Do you have a funny homecoming mum memory to share? Let us know in the comments section on our Facebook page.