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Feliz Navidad, Hippies!

Christmas in August? Certainly it is for anyone who’s looking to snag a ripped, plaid couch or a one-armed desk chair. Read more about this curious Madison tradition, celebrated (or despised) by apartment dwellers each August 14.

As the dog days of August warm up, the student-heavy districts of downtown Madison prepare for the arrival of the freegans’ favorite holiday: Hippie Christmas. The day between leases offers the year’s best opportunity for Dumpster diving.

Moving Day is a curious Madison tradition. Many landlords for the city’s campus-adjacent apartments begin new leases on August 15 and end them August 14, leading to a mad scramble as students must move out by Friday but are not be able to move in to their new digs until Saturday. In their rush, they shed (and sometimes shred!) furniture and other belongings, lightening their loads while providing more-or-less-good-as-new material for those frugal souls who don’t mind a few roaches in the couch.

Moving Day has been part of Madison’s history for decades. In a recent issue of WAA’s Badger Insider Magazine, Chet Nelson ’54 reported that he and his roommates schemed to avoid double rent by moving between lease dates — and using the time to score good swag. Two of them played the piano, so they passed the word around: “Got an old, playable upright? We’ll haul it away for free!” he says. “We got six offers and took the best one.”

City officials have tried to adapt their practices to help the horde of student movers. They’ve set up drop-off sites for mass collection by Goodwill, and they’ve organized recycling stations for discarded electronics. They’ve added extra garbage pickup shifts (at 4 a.m.) to clear out the mess. A student group calling itself Dumpster Diving Revolution “rescued” more than five tons of material from being consigned to Madison’s landfills.

Hippie Christmas is less beloved by UW faculty, staff, and other working stiffs who have to pick their way through mountains of debris to get to their jobs and back home again. But for students, an evening spent camping out in cars or on lawns and the adventure of being homeless for 24 hours remains alluring enough to keep the tradition alive.

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