Life as a Columbia Lion includes annual traditions and milestones — some official and some not-so-official. We are excited for you to take part in all of them! Read on to learn what you can look forward to during your first year on campus. (Some events and traditions may look different this year due to Covid-19 considerations.)
Core Opening Lecture
As part of NSOP, all incoming Columbia College first-year and transfer students attend a class-wide Literature Humanities gathering to discuss their summer reading assignment — typically including a selection made specifically for your class, plus the first six books of Homer’s Iliad. This will be your first taste of all the Core Curriculum has to offer!
Early in the academic year, more than 350 clubs and student organizations set up tables on the plazas of Low and Butler to introduce themselves to incoming students. You’ll collect lots of information and swag — and leave buzzing about multiple activities you’ll want to try.
Finding the Owl
A hidden owl appears somewhere within the bronze sculpture of Alma Mater. Legend has it that the first incoming student to find it is destined to become valedictorian. Well, at least those who find it have a secret to hold over the heads of next year’s incoming students!
Each October, students gather with the entire Columbia community, including alumni and family members, for a fun-filled weekend at the Baker Athletics Complex to embrace the spirit of the Columbia Lions. Highlights include activities and food under the big tent, a variety of athletics competitions and of course,cheering on the Lions at the Columbia Homecoming football game with Columbia mascot Roar-ee.
Morningside Lights, a co-production of Columbia University’s Arts Initiative and Miller Theatre, is an annual outdoor procession featuring dozens of lanterns built by members of the Morningside community during a week of free public workshops. Students, families and members of the community are all welcome to attend the workshops and procession.
Just after Thanksgiving Break, the trees on College Walk light up for the winter at a community event that includes winter treats and musical performances by students during this beloved annual ceremony.
Yule Log Ceremony
The Yule Log Ceremony is one of Columbia's oldest traditions and began in 1910 for students unable to return home for the holidays. The ceremony begins immediately after the Tree Lighting Ceremony. Students in Colonial garb carry the Yule Log around campus and eventually place it in the fireplace of the lounge in John Jay Hall. Seasonal readings are given and the Columbia University president offers a holiday message to the Columbia community.
Primal Scream is an end-of-semester tradition at midnight on the last Sunday of the semester. Students take a study break, open their room windows, and release their stress by screaming as loudly as they can for as long as they can. It has been known to run up to 5 minutes and be heard throughout the campus.
Glass House Rocks
Students are treated to a spectacle of food and fun as dance troupes and musical groups put on a dazzling show on the brightly-lit ramps of Lerner Hall, Columbia’s hub for Undergraduate Student Life
Instead of Midnight Madness, Columbia celebrates Basketball Mania: the annual kick-off event for the basketball season held in Levien Gym. The pep rally features performances by student groups and clubs, prize giveaways, contests and culminates with the introduction of the men's and women's basketball teams.
Celebrate the approach of the end of the school year with this student-organized music festival. Past performers include Rae Sremmurd (pictured), Vampire Weekend (our very own alumni!), Big Sean, The National and Snoop Dogg. Each year, campus groups compete to see who will perform as the opening act
With few exceptions, the Varsity Show has taken place annually since 1894, when it was originally founded as a fundraiser for Athletics. This annual show “satirizes life at Columbia through its takes on politics, student groups, administrators and other aspects of campus life.” Many notable alumni have been writers or performers in the Varsity Show, including Oscar Hammerstein II (CC 1916), Richard Rodgers (CC 1923), I.A.L. Diamond CC’41 , Terrence McNally CC’60 and Kate McKinnon CC’06.
Class Day is the graduation ceremony held by each school that is part of Commencement. More personal than the University-wide Commencement ceremony, Class Day incorporates keynote speakers, remarks from the President and school deans, and the reading of every graduates’ name. It is often considered the most meaningful part of Commencement Week.
Congratulations: if you’ve read this far, you’ve earned the right to know about these two hilarious, snarky, totally unapproved lists of traditions: the WikiCU list of traditions and The Columbia Spectator’s 116 Columbia Traditions.