Staff writer Sophie Miller reviews the annual Mermaids’ Christmas Ball

As a writer for a St Andrews publication, it is often a perk of the job to be able to attend events free of charge – especially one as aggrandised as Christmas Ball. Every year, the same rumours are passed between roommates, circulated among academic families, and whispered between classes: someone’s flatmate once sold an unsuspecting fresher a 100 pound ticket, someone’s ex-best friend managed to up-charge by triple the original price or someone’s academic sister was able to score two tickets, making back the charge of her own ticket plus a tidy little profit. Because tickets to this supposedly legendary event are so difficult to come by, their price skyrockets immediately following the minutes-long mad dash to actually score one in the official sale. But they are only so tricky to snag because so many people know that they can make good money reselling! It is this vicious cycle that has created a bubble of hype, which surrounds the event and makes it the absolute event of the season for many students. After all, if you manage to get in the doors, you must be either quite well-connected or have serious disposable income (though one would be hard-pressed to find a St Andrews student that doesn’t fit this bill).

I am here, however, to thoroughly negate this claim. It does give one a bit of a thrill to tell people that your Christmas Ball tickets are already on lock, especially just after nearly everyone comes up empty-handed from the online sale. The excitement leading up to the event becomes palpable, and, if you’ve never attended (as I hadn’t prior to attending this year’s soiree), fluttery curiosity bubbles to the surface at the prospect of what awaits you at the always magical Kinkell Byre (a place we’ve all been to already this year, at both House of Horror and Welly Ball) – after all, something must be behind all those stories.

The pre-event at the Union was pleasant, and it was definitely amusing to see the scattered chairs and groups of writhing drunkards replaced with paper flowers and a string quartet. The bus ride was semi-luxurious, the Mermaids springing for coach buses to transport their eager, already tipsy guests to the actual site of the event. Everyone was giggling in excitement of grabbing their free glass (or, in the case of many, glasses, plural) of prosecco. Unfortunately, the let-down was to come later.

The disappointment of Christmas Ball did not dawn on me immediately upon arrival. Walking in, the decor was admittedly very beautiful (though the impromptu concert for whichever a cappella group was performing at the entrance seemed unnecessary, and doubtless did the group any favours, as even I, someone tasked with studying the event for review, paid little attention to them) and it was even impressive that the organisers had wrangled several Christmas trees into the barn. Free Janetta’s and a chocolate fountain, along with the pretty lights and well-stocked food tent, were all great additions to the fun. However, this was not where the let-down lay.

My ire with Christmas Ball lies in the fact that it is essentially just Opening Ball, except at Kinkell Byre, and just the tiniest bit worse. The event lacked danceable music – the live band was fun for a few songs, but their energy wore thin after a while, and splicing their set with Christmas music played at half-volume was decidedly not a crowd-pleasing choice. The food tent was, as I mentioned before, a nice idea, and provided some much-needed respite from the throngs of people that could be found in the main barn area. Sadly, the tent had no music, nor did it have any other form of entertainment aside from the food, which, I might add, you had to pay extra for. This would have been less jarring if the ball had not been marketed as the leading event of the year. Mermaids could have easily followed in the footsteps of Welly Ball and added a DJ in this area or Opening Ball which shared the same price tag but instead featured two separate music tents. Yet aside from the lacklustre musical showing, there really was no entertainment at all. Welly Ball had two musical acts, House of Horror had an amusement park ride, Opening Ball had a live band as well as DJ (which also featured flashing lights). However with Christmas Ball there was simply nothing to do aside from dance to songs that essentially all sounded the same whilst trying to shout over said music in an attempt to actually converse with fellow guests. This was frustrating as the last buses left the Union at 9:30 and did not return anyone until at least 12:30 in the morning.

Don’t get me wrong: Christmas Ball was by no means a failed event. It was certainly very good fun, and seemed to put everyone in the holiday spirit. The free food and alcohol were thoughtful touches, and a live band was a very sophisticated choice. However, it did miss the promised mise-en-scene, the jazziness and swank that could have put it over the top. It was supposed to be the event to get tickets for if you bought no others and should have most certainly been at the top of your list as was evidenced by the immediate sellout and the forty-five minute wait. People paid, from the many horror stories I’ve heard from traumatised freshers, upwards of 75 pounds for this, and it most certainly did not live up to the hype. I was glad I was able to attend and most assuredly had a good time, but at the same time I felt grateful to not be among those who paid through the nose to be there. It was, tragically, just another ball.

Overall Rating: 3/5