Home College Towns The Top Eight College Homecoming Celebrations in America
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The Top Eight College Homecoming Celebrations in America

The Top Eight College Homecoming Celebrations in America
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4. Campaniling, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA

At midnight on the Friday of Homecoming week, there will be hundreds of UNI students gathering around the campus campanile or the bell tower kissing one another. This tradition dates back to the 1920’s when there were more women than men on campus.

Here’s the back story:  male students would randomly call different telephone numbers at the women’s dorms and arrange to meet them at the campanile. Then they would hide in shadows to evaluate their dates before deciding whether they would ask the gal to go campaniling or wait and try again the next night with a different co-ed.

Today this tradition has turned into a huge event. Unlike early times, “campaniling” involves more couples than blind dates but tradition still has it that to be a true co-ed a woman would need to be kissed under the shadow of the Campanile at midnight during Homecoming week.

It is also believed that for men and women to be a true graduate of UNI you must go campaniling before you graduate. The tradition is carried over from Homecoming week and talked about by the student guides when showing prospective students around the campus of UNI. The legend says that for every student who graduates without being kissed in the shadow of the campanile, a brick will fall from the tower.

This tradition is still one of the high points of the Homecoming celebration.


3. Red Shirt, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI

As I mentioned earlier, The Beach Boys sing in their hit song “Be True to Your School”, “…be true to your school now and let your colors fly…”  At the University of Wisconsin’s Homecoming, the alumni and the students let their colors fly by wearing the “Red Shirt”. There is a specially designed red shirt available for purchase for each separate Homecoming.

If you happen to watch the University of Wisconsin’s Homecoming game on TV, or you are attending the game, you know it is Homecoming because the stands become a sea of Red Shirts.  At this year’s Homecoming, the 9th edition of the Red Shirt will be available. These shirts have become collectible because there is a different shirt design for each Homecoming.

Wearing the red Badger shirt shows your school pride and it supports a very important scholarship program at UW, The Great People Scholarship. This scholarship helps deserving students attain their UW degree. Beginning in 2008, and the idea was developed as a way for the Badger community to give back.

The Red Shirts unite students and alumni, and the most important reason is to fund the Great People Scholarship. There have been 47,000 shirts sold since its inception; $270,000 have been raised for scholarships, 157 scholarships awarded to date, 50% of all sales of Red Shirts goes to the Office of Student Financial Aid, and the average award is $4460.

You will find the Red Shirt Tradition along with the Red Talk, the Homecoming Parade, the Blood Drive, the Pep Rally, the Light of the Moon 5K and the Badger Huddle during Homecoming week. The Red Shirt is everywhere during the week of the Homecoming celebration, and it is truly the ultimate symbol of Badger pride.


2. Running Around the Bonfire, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH

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When you talk about Ivy League schools, you hear the word tradition used frequently. Each Ivy League school is proud of their traditions, at least most of them, and Dartmouth is no exception.

Dartmouth Night begins the college’s tradition of Homecoming Weekend. Dartmouth Night consists of a number of speeches, a parade, and a Bonfire. Tradition has it that the freshman class builds the Bonfire and runs around it as many times as their class year. This year’s freshman class will run around the Bonfire 200 times.

The original Bonfire in 1888 was set to celebrate a baseball victory over Manchester College. The first Bonfire consisted of everything from old mattresses to a rusty old car bumper as fuel for the fire.The following day there was an editorial in “The Dartmouth” criticizing the Bonfire writing, “It disturbed the slumbers of a peaceful town destroyed some property, made the boys feel that they were being men, and in fact did no one any good.” A tradition is born at Dartmouth College.

The tradition of building the Bonfire went from using whatever was available to using the number of wooden tiers that would equal the number of years of the first year class…so in 1985 the freshman class would be the class of 1988, and so the Bonfire would be built 88 tiers high.

Today there is a cap on the number of tiers for safety reasons.

The tradition of running around the Bonfire did not begin until 1904. The class of 1908 first paraded around the Bonfire and around Hanover in their pajamas – continuing the tradition which still exists.

There is part of the tradition of running around the Bonfire that is not popular with the school administration and the police department. When the freshman are running around the Bonfire some of the upperclassmen encourage the freshman to “touch the fire”.

This part of the tradition is considered trespassing when a student places their hand under or over the yellow tape that separates them from the Bonfire. It’s also prohibited by the police who are at the Run Around the Bonfire event.

Maybe the article in the 1888 “The Dartmouth” made a point that still needs to emphasized today; touching the fire does not make one a man. It makes a kid with a burnt hand. That is the last of my preaching.

There is no question that Dartmouth Night and the Running Around the Bonfire are still the highlights of the school year. Homecoming weekend with the traditional football game and the events of Dartmouth Night help the alumni and the students  express their love for Dartmouth College.


1. Gator Growl, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

The Gator Growl is the largest student-run pep rally in the nation, and it is the highlight of the University of Florida’s Homecoming. There are more than 500 students who work thousands of hours to make the Gator Growl happen.

The Gator Growl, like all pep rallies, is designed to bring school spirit to a new level the night before the Homecoming football game. The University of Florida calls the Gator Growl a “Flagship” event that is 90 years old.

The Gator Growl is an offspring of what was called Dad’s Day when Dads came to visit their sons on campus when the University of Florida was an all male school. In 1924 Dad’s Day was replaced with a Friday Night Pep Rally. A bonfire was the big attraction of the pep rally and every student who attended the rally and bonfire had to gather their weight in firewood in order to get into the pep rally.

The large bonfire was lit, signifying what was called “The Firing Up” before the football game, which was to be played the next day. In the late 20’s skits, performances, and musical acts added entertainment to the pep rally. In 1928 fireworks were added to the pep rally, requiring the pep rally to move outdoors to Florida Field.

In 1932 the pep rally became the Gator Growl. The name was born when a Blue Key member replied in frustration, “Just let the gator growl”, as students were attempting to rename the pep rally.

In 1973 when “Cheech and Chong” came to perform during the show portion of the pep rally, it was the first time you had to purchase a ticket to the show. Each show prior to the “Cheech and Chong” performance was free. The cost of the ticket was .50.

In 1976 Bob Hope came and performed at the Gator Growl. After his performance, attendance at the Gator Growl grew exponentially. From that time forward many well-known performers have shared their talents at the Gator Growl. Today the Gator Growl takes place at Flavet Field. The Gator Growl is the culmination of Homecoming week.


Be True to Your Own School!

I would be willing to bet that your alma mater has a few homecoming traditions of its own!  This year, take a nostalgic trip back and join in the fun.  You may have a completely different perspective than you did as a student.  Or you may see things in just the same way.  Doesn’t matter – support your school and your fellow alums!  See you at the bonfire.


Featured Image – CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=123582

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Jamie Stewart America Unraveled's resident expert on all things higher ed!

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