Homecoming, welcoming back of former residents and alumni, is a tradition in many universities, colleges and high schools in North America. It usually includes activities for students and alumni, such as sports and culture events and a parade through the streets of the city or town.
Homecoming is an annual tradition of the United States
. People, towns, high schools and colleges come together, usually in late September or early October, to welcome back former residents and alumni
. It is built around a central event, such as a banquet
or a game of American football
, soccer, basketball
, or ice hockey
. When celebrated by schools, the activities vary widely. However, they usually consist of a football game played on the school's home football field, activities for students and alumni, a parade
featuring the school's marching band
and sports teams, and the coronation of a Homecoming Queen (and at many schools, a Homecoming King).
Both the University of Missouri
and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
lay claim to establishing the tradition of homecoming on college campuses. In 1909, Baylor University
was the first university to hold an organized alumni event whose focus point was a varsity sports match; however, the event was an isolated event that wasn't replicated again at Baylor until six years later. As a result, Illinois and Missouri are generally given credit for establishing the annual tradition that has become known as homecoming. The University of Missouri has received the most recognition, as it was recognized by the NCAA
, Trivial Pursuit
as being the birthplace of the tradition.
Additionally, Missouri remains home to the largest student-run homecoming event in the United States and includes the largest blood drive on a college campus.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign credits two senior members of the class of 1910 with establishing the tradition of homecoming at Illinois. These two men were Clarence F. Williams and W. Elmer Ekblaw. According to recollections Williams in 1930, the idea came to the two men in 1910 while they were sitting on the steps of the YMCA discussing ways of contributing to their alma mater. The men's idea culminated in Illinois' first homecoming event on October 15, 1910. The event celebration centered around the football game against the University of Chicago, and it also included various alumni reunions, initiations, and banquets.
The history of the University of Missouri Homecoming can be traced back to 1891, when the Missouri Tigers first faced off against the Kansas Jayhawks in football in the first installment of the Border War, which is also the oldest college football rivalry west of the Mississippi River. The intense rivalry originally took place at neutral sites, usually in Kansas City, Missouri, until a new conference regulation was announced that required intercollegiate football games to be played on collegiate campuses. To renew excitement in the rivalry, ensure adequate attendance at the new location, and celebrate the first meeting of the two teams on the Mizzou campus in Columbia, Missouri, Mizzou Athletic Director Chester L. Brewer invited all alumni to "come home" for the game in 1911. Along with the football game, the celebration included a parade and spirit rally. The event was a success, with nearly 10,000 alumni coming home to take part in the celebration and watch the Tigers and Jayhawks play to a 3-3 tie. The Missouri homecoming model, with it's parade and spirit rally centered around a large football game is the model that has gone on to take hold at colleges and high schools across the United States.
Homecoming queen and king
The Homecoming Court usually consists of seniors. In high school, 17- or 18-year-old students in their final year are represented; in college, students who are completing their final year of study, usually between 21 and 23 years old.
Classmates traditionally nominate students who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to contribute to their school. Other times, students vote for the nominees. Once the Homecoming Court candidates are announced, the entire student body votes for the Queen and King (by secret ballot) or by some other means determined by the school.
Local rules determine when the Homecoming Queen and King are crowned. Sometimes, the big announcement comes at a pep rally or school assembly one or more days before the game. Other schools crown their royalty at the Homecoming football game or dance or Basketball game. Still, some other schools crown their King and Queen at a second assembly during Homecoming week called Coronation Assemblies. Some schools have the coronation after school in the evening for the public to see.
Often, the previous year's Queen and King are invited back to crown their successors. If they are absent for whatever reason, someone else – usually, another previous Queen or King, a popular teacher, or other designated person – will perform those duties. Usually, the Queen is crowned first, followed by the King (for schools that have both kings and queens). The crowning method also varies by school.
Homecoming court members who are not crowned king or queen are often called escorts or royalty . They are often expected to participate in the week's activities as well. At some schools, a Homecoming Prince/Princess, Duke/Duchess etc. (often underclassmen nominated by their classmates) are crowned along with the King and Queen; sometimes, middle school and junior high students may partake in the high school activities.
Many Homecoming celebrations include a parade
. Students often select the grand marshal based on his/her service and support to the school and/or community. The parade includes the school's marching band
and different school organizations floats created by the classes and organizations and most of the sports get a chance to be in the parade and show off their fierceness! Every class prepares a float which corresponds with the Homecoming theme. In addition, the Homecoming Court takes part in the parade, often riding together in one or more convertibles as part of the parade. The parade
is often part of a series of activities scheduled for that specific day, which can also include a pep rally
, snake dance
, and other activities for students and alumni.
At most major colleges and universities, the football game and preceding tailgate
are the most widely recognized and heavily attended events of the week. Alumni gather from all around the world to return to their Alma Mater and reconnect with one another and take part in the festivities. Students, alumni, businesses, and members of the community set up tents in parking lots, fields, and streets near the stadium to cook out, play games, socialize, and even enjoy live music in many instances. These celebrations often last straight through the game for those who do not have tickets but still come to take part in the socializing and excitement of the homecoming atmosphere. Most tents even include television or radio feeds of the game for those without tickets.
Sometimes during the school week, a picnic could occur. The picnic is very similar to the tailgate party, but it occurs after school or during the school's lunch period.
Throughout the week, schools (particularly high schools) engage in special dress-up days, sometimes called "Spirit Week", where students are allowed to wear clothing suitable to the theme (e.g., toga
day Rat Pack Day) leading to the homecoming. Students traditionally wear clothing with their school's name, or clothing and makeup of their school's colors on Friday.
At many high schools, especially in the southern United States, homecoming dates exchange "mums" on Homecoming Friday, to wear to the game and the dance. These are very elaborate corsages (for the girls) or garters (for the boys, worn on the arm) that consist of a large flower (usually a chrysanthemum) surrounded by a ribbon ruffle. Long ribbons, decorations and trinkets are hung from the mum which indicate the students' date of birth, name, class, interests, and messages towards other people.
Many schools hold a rally during Homecoming week, often one or more nights before the game. The events vary, but may include skits, games, introduction of the homecoming court (and coronation of the King and Queen if that is the school's tradition), and comments from the football players and/or coach about the upcoming game.
At some schools, the Homecoming rally ends with a bonfire (in which old wood structures, the rival school's memorabilia and other items are burned in a controlled fire.) Many colleges and high schools no longer hold bonfires because of accidents that have occurred surrounding these events in the past. The most well known accident took place in 1999, when 12 students were killed and 27 others were injured at Texas A&M University when a 40-foot tall pile of logs that had been assembled for a homecoming bonfire collapsed.
The Homecoming Dance – usually the culminating event of the week (for high schools) – is a formal or in-formal event, either at the school or an off-campus location. The venue is decorated, and either a disc jockey or band is hired to play music. In many ways, it is a fall prom
. Homecoming dances could be informal as well just like standard school dances. At high schools, the homecoming dances are sometimes held in the high school gymnasium. Many of the song that are heard at the dance are songs you can actually dance to, no matter what the theme is.
Since most colleges are too large to facilitate a campus-wide dance, these events are usually handled instead by student organizations such as fraternities, sororities, and residential colleges. Because football and alumni events are the focal points of collegiate homecoming, dances often take place during a different week when schedules are more permitting, or not at all.
While at the high school level, students generally compete by grade level in events such as the spirit days and parade floats, the competition at the collegiate level is mainly between Greek-letter organizations and, to a lesser degree, residence halls. At most larger schools, fraternities and sororities compete on parade floats, house decorations, skits, talent competitions, and even service events such as blood drives or food drives. Sometimes on coronation night, some schools have games that they play between classes. Such events include the pyramid, the 3 legged race, the pop chug, and tug of war.
Smaller school homecomings
While most schools schedule their Homecoming activities around football
, smaller schools that do not field a football team or whose football program is weak plan the annual event at another time of the year. In these instances, basketball
or ice hockey
serves as the "big game" for students and alumni
. Often in smaller towns with smaller populations, the parade is omitted.
At schools without athletic programs, the centerpiece event is usually a banquet, where alumni are recognized. This format is also used for alumni events of high schools that have either closed or consolidated with other high schools; the high school classes continue to meet and celebrate their years at their now-defunct alma mater.
In some parts of the country, high school basketball has gained a homecoming celebration of its own. Often referred to as Winter Homecoming
(the latter is especially prominent in parts of Missouri), it usually includes rallies, dress-up days, special dinners, king and queen coronations, and other winter-friendly activities typically associated with football homecoming.
Some schools have Homecoming like events during the school year. Many of them have similar traditions to homecoming events such as the big game, dress up days, dance, etc.
Homecoming outside the United States
Homecoming celebrations are uncommon at universities across Canada. The best-known and largest homecoming weekends are held by Queen's University
and the University of Western Ontario
each year. Canadian homecoming weekends are often centred around a football game but are also filled with events such as "pancake keggers" and parades. However, in Newfoundland and Labrador, communities have a "Come Home Year" where people who have moved away from their town come back from across Canada. In 2000, there was a provincial "Come Home Year", where many people came back to visit their various communities. Homecomings are not popular among Canadian highschools, and rare to find one that celebrates homecoming. Newmarket Highschool is the only school in Ontario that takes part in the event. The weekend before the Canadian Thanksgiving, all graduates and alumni come back and play drinking games with the students that are above the legal drinking age.
The idea of homecoming was adopted by the Scottish government in their campaign to encourage Scots, or those with an affinity for Scotland, to return to the country.