Traditions

Columbia is a place unlike any other—full of traditions shaped by our history, our city and by students like you, who infuse our community with energy and perspectives from all around the world. Below, you’ll find just some of the one-of-a-kind moments and opportunities that await you.

For Columbians, the year's first snow fall means one thing: epic snowball fight.

student:

I lead trips for Urban New York, a fun tradition every semester. Whether it's a Broadway show or a basketball game at Madison Square Garden, the trips are completely free, and Columbia even provides us with MetroCards. I get to meet new classmates while exploring the city!

Riley
S.
Port Saint Lucie, FL
Psychology

Through the Gates 

Every year, staff and administrators serenade first-year students with the Columbia fight song as they enter the gates of Columbia University at 116th Street during the New Student Orientation Program (NSOP).

The Owl and Alma Mater

Legend holds that the first member of the incoming class to find the owl hidden on the statue of Alma Mater in Low Plaza will become the class valedictorian. 

Bacchanal

A chance to blow off a little steam before spring finals, the annual day-long festival brings premier musical acts to the community and has featured performances by AlunaGeorge, The Chainsmokers, Ty Dolla $ign and Columbia alums, Vampire Weekend. 

First Snow

At the first snowfall of each year, the students converge on Low Plaza for a friendly, free-for-all snowball fight under the watchful eye of Alma Mater.

King's Crown Shakespeare Troupe

For 20+ years, the King's Crown Shakespeare Troupe has performed free, outdoor performances all around Columbia's Morningside Heights campus.

President’s Annual Fun Run

Every fall, this 5K fun run draws hundreds of students, faculty and staff for a beautiful early morning run from College Walk, through Riverside Park along the Hudson River, down to 96th Street and back again. 

Surf & Turf & Earth

As the school year winds down, Columbia's top-ranked Dining Services pulls out all the stops for Surf & Turf & Earth, featuring lobster tails, steak and literal boatloads of shrimp. Students are advised to come hungry!

Homecoming

Every October, thousands of Columbia alumni from every corner of the world return to Morningside Heights to celebrate Homecoming—a weekend full of fall festivities that culminates in a football game between the Lions and an Ivy League rival.

Residence Hall Leadership Organization Send Off 

Held each fall on the South Lawn, the RHLO Send Off brings together undergraduates from Columbia College, Columbia Engineering and Barnard College for games, carnival-style refreshments and even some inflatables.

Powwow

This annual event unites Indigenous communities and their friends and allies to celebrate and honor their identities through dance, song and socialization.

People running a 5k
Students playing a blow up fighting game

LGBTQ+ Awareness

Through guest speakers, film screenings, workshops and discussions, Queer Awareness Month celebrates queer and trans identities and facilitates conversations about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer issues and history. Trans Awareness Week in November features events to raise awareness and educate the Columbia community about the lives and experiences of transgender and gender nonconforming communities. 

Latinx Heritage Month

The Latino Heritage Month committee works closely with Columbia students and the surrounding community to address issues impacting Latinos and Latin Americans internationally, within the United States and on Columbia’s campus. Students can enjoy film screenings, panels, performances and networking events.

Night Market

The Chinese Students Club transforms Low Steps into the famed Night Markets of China and Taiwan with two massive tents and hundreds of lights, celebrating the enchanting atmosphere and unique traditions of autumn festivals. The program showcases performances and club-run booths, modeled after the famed street markets dedicated to leisurely strolling, shopping and eating tasty snacks.

Bad Poetry Contest

Since 1986, Columbia’s Philolexian Society has hosted the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Bad Poetry Contest. This annual event draws crowds of 200–300 participants vying for the title “Poet Laureate” of the Society. Members of the Columbia community are invited to present original works of ‘bad poetry’ before an audience of their peers and a panel of judges consisting of members of the Columbia faculty.

Thanksgiving at John Jay

Every year Columbia Dining hosts a Thanksgiving feast for 1,000 students to celebrate and give thanks with their Columbia family before the holiday break. A traditional dinner of turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings is served family style in John Jay Dining Hall, where the menu includes vegan, vegetarian, halal and kosher options.

Charter Day

Charter Day commemorates the signing of the King’s College charter in 1754. Dean Valentini and other College administrators celebrate by offering treats, trivia and prizes to students in Hamilton Hall.

Native American Heritage Month

Native American Heritage Month provides the Columbia University community with programming regarding American Indian/Native American and Indigenous issues, and celebrates the rich culture, history and political contributions of Native American peoples. Columbia also observes Indigenous Peoples Day in October, and the annual Powwow is hosted each spring by the Native American Council of Columbia University.

Roar-Ee at a Football game in the stands
student:

Tree Lighting Ceremony is absolutely my favorite! All the lights lit up on the trees lining College Walk become an amazing view before finals season approaches.

Blanche
Z.
Beijing, China
Visual Art and Art History

Tree Lighting and Yule Log Ceremony

Just before finals week in early December, meet at the Sundial for hot chocolate and a cappella music before the countdown to the illumination of the trees along College Walk. Then enjoy one of Columbia’s oldest traditions, the lighting of the Yule Log. In a ceremony that predates the American Revolutionary War, a troop of students dressed as Continental Army soldiers carry the log from the Sundial to John Jay Hall lounge, where readings, songs and toasts celebrate the warmth and spirit of the season.

Glass House Rocks

Lerner Hall is one of the main hubs on campus and features a multistory floor-to-ceiling window design. On a special Thursday night in February it transforms into the site of Glass House Rocks, a student-organized party attracting more than 2,000 students. There’s free food and drinks while dance and music groups perform on the building’s distinctive ramps. Past events have included improv sketches, laser tag and a red-carpet photo shoot.

Black History Month

Each February at Columbia University, Black History Month celebrates the rich cultural, historical and political contributions of the Black Diaspora. Advised and overseen through Multicultural Affairs, the month’s events feature an opening reception, fashion show, semi-formal and talent showcase, as well as panel discussions, film screenings, art shows and more.

Holi – The Festival of Colors

Each spring, Columbia’s Hindu Students Organization (HSO) hosts a Holi celebration. Holi, also called the Festival of Colors, is a Hindu holiday marking the end of winter and the beginning of spring. People traditionally celebrate by throwing colored powder at each other. HSO brought 1,500 pounds of paint to the most recent festival in which students of all faiths participated.

Students celebrating throwing colored powder on campus
Students having a snowball fight outside Lerner Hall
student:

My favorite tradition is attending the annual Varsity Show—this student-run musical production truly encompasses the spirit of Columbia: witty, brilliant, quirky and just a tiny bit sassy.

Krista
K.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Computer Science, Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Varsity Show

Since 1894, the Varsity Show has entertained students, faculty, and administrators by bringing laughs to Morningside Heights in an annual satire on life at Columbia. The Varsity Show is an entirely student-run production and helped launch the creative genius of Rodgers and Hammerstein as well as Kate McKinnon, Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt.

Asian Pacific American History Month

Asian Pacific American History Month is an annual celebration at Columbia University dedicated to promoting awareness of Asian Pacific American issues and history among the Columbia student body. Over the course of April, programming showcases the stories of Asian Pacific American artists, activists, professionals, scholars and more.

Senior Design Expo

Columbia Engineering Senior Design Expo gives the school’s seniors a chance to showcase their capstone projects. Attendees learn about the mechanics, design and engineering behind a wide range of projects and prototypes from all nine departments. Past expos have included a mechanical device that mimics the movement of a human hand, a robotic air hockey player, a device that enhances hearing protection for soldiers and a model for a soccer stadium that can withstand gale force winds and earthquakes.

Class Days and Commencement

Class Day Ceremonies are school-specific celebrations of the accomplishments of graduating students. Students’ names are read as they proceed across the stage and receive their class pin. Student life, academic and alumni awards and prizes are conferred to students. 

Commencement is the University-wide event celebrating graduates of all Columbia schools and its affiliates. The ceremony begins with the academic procession and includes the awarding of honorary degrees, the President's address to graduates, and the conferring of degrees en masse by school.