MAR 04, 2019 • 8 min read
There are very few people who haven’t heard about the first class education provided by America’s eight Ivy League Universities. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia...for centuries these schools have been associated with the world’s most talented students, Nobel Prize winning faculty and Colleges rich in history with alumni who changed the world.
But beyond the great facilities and the unrivalled research resources, the Ivies are actually colourful hubs of student spirit, fun festivals and some rather unusual celebrations which speak to their unique personalities.
Music professors carried in coffins, Med school deans pulled on snow sleds...? Here are just a few festival celebrations that showcase why going to an Ivy is just plain fun!
HARVARD HOUSING DAY
Put simply, Harvard’s Housing Day involves the provision of a letter to Freshmen who have been living in their first year dorms since arriving at Harvard the previous Fall. This letter simply informs the Freshmen of the residential college house they will be living in for the next three years of their Harvard undergraduate experience.
But it’s the way these letters are delivered which makes Housing Day so much fun. On the Thursday before Spring Break, at 9am, the upperclassmen from Harvard’s 12 Houses gather in Harvard Yard dressed in their House colours, chanting House chants and waving House flags as they await the provision of these letters which they then deliver in a celebration of frenzy to the Freshmen’s individual rooms. This ‘dorm storming’ is accompanied by music, shouting and begins a day of House celebrations for upperclassmen and their new Freshmen housemates.
PRINCETON - BONFIRE ON CANNON GREEN
This event may not be held every year but when it is, it is a celebration to remember. The skyscraper height Bonfire is held on Princeton’s Cannon Green when - and only when - Princeton defeat their main rivals Harvard and Yale in a single football season.
The first recorded bonfires actually occurred to celebrate victories in baseball, not football but as football became more popular, and as gridiron competition with Yale and Harvard became regular events, the bonfire symbolized capture of the Big Three Title, a mythical award that bestowed bragging rights to the victor.
This year (2018), for the first time in 54 years, Princeton not only defeated their Big Three rivals but finished the season with a perfect 10-0 score making the bonfire all that more radiant in victory.
YALE - FOUNDERS DAY
Yale University’s annual Founders Day is held on or near the day when the New Haven Colony approved the creation of the “Collegiate School” that would become Yale: Oct. 9, 1701. Held on Cross Campus, the celebrations include harvest food stalls and candy apple stands, musical entertainment, tree plantings, scientific experiments and the cutting of the oversized ‘Y’ cake which has a new theme every year.
Founders Day is famous for the large crowds it draws as students, their families, alumni, faculty and members of the greater New Haven Community come together to celebrate the founding of one of the world’s most famous universities.
DARTMOUTH WINTER CARNIVAL
With its origins based in some humble campus ski races held in the early 1900’s, Dartmouth’s Winter Festival grew into what was historically dubbed the ‘Mardi Gras of the North’ and continues this day to be one of the most celebrated college campus events in the US.
Held in February, when Hanover’s temperatures are reliably sub zero, students and faculty hit the snow to ski, compete in human dog sled races and swim in a cut out on the ice. The highlight however is usually the super-sized ice sculptures of everything from the Cat in The Hat (Dr Theodor Seuss being a Dartmouth alum), to the Statue of Liberty.
CORNELL - DRAGON DAY
Every year in March, in a tradition that goes back more than a century, an enormous dragon created by first-year architecture students parades across campus. Accompanied by AAP (Architecture, Art and Planning) students in colourful costumes, the dragon lumbers to the Arts Quad where it battles with a phoenix created by rival engineering students. This rite of spring is one of Cornell's best-known traditions.
Dragon Day, held just before Spring Break, has its roots in St Partrick’s Day celebrations and was originally symbolic of St Patrick ridding Ireland of snakes. Over the years it has evolved into a major campus celebration including music, marching, dancing and dress-up.
COLUMBIA TREE LIGHTING FESTIVAL AND YULE LOG CEREMONY
Every year in early December, Columbia students and alumni gather on College Walk for the annual Columbia Tree Lighting Ceremony. The festive event celebrates tradition and holiday spirit as the Columbia College community including students, faculty, family, alumni and friends gather together at the center of campus.
The Yule Log Ceremony can be traced back to the first decades of Columbia’s founding as King’s College. Its roots lie in medieval Scandinavia, where lighting a log was a pagan celebration of the warmth and spirit of the season. Each year, Columbia’s Blue Key Society honors this tradition by carrying the Yule Log through campus and lighting the log in the hearth of John Jay Lounge. The evening progresses into a night of capella performances, games, holiday treat eating and even an ugly sweater contest.
BROWN’S ANNUAL MIDNIGHT HALLOWEEN ORGAN CONCERT
Every year, Brown University’s Sayles Hall plays host to a full-capacity crowd for the university's annual midnight organ concert. In lieu of traditional seating, audience members bring blankets and pillows to cozy up on the floor and listen to pieces ranging from Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" to the "Monster Mash."
The music is performed on Brown's 1903 Hutchings-Votey pipe organ - the largest remaining Hutchings-Votey organ in the world, by Brown’s university organist and music professor, Mark Steinbach, who is carried into the hall in a coffin!
Steinbach then mesmerizes his audience as he negotiates the organs’ three keyboards and dozens of foot pedals with an air of gothic ferver.
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA’S “HEY DAY”
Following a tradition that dates back to 1916, the University of Pennsylvania’s Juniors (third year students) celebrate ‘Hey Day’ every May - the day celebrating their advancement to their senior and final year as their predecessors graduate.
On this day, the Juniors don red shirts, mahogany walking canes and straw flat brimmed hats as they march along Locust Walk over the Class of 1949 Generational Bridge before continuing on to College Green where they are met by the University President. After singing a rousing rendition of “The Red and The Blue’, the Juniors are officially announced Seniors and the real celebrations begin!