Spirit of Tradition: Traditions of Social Life

An online exhibition from 1998 highlighting traditions that have shaped student life at Syracuse University.

May Queen

May Queen 10-0050 Representing the "Spirit of Light," Ruth Blount was elected by her peers to be the May Queen of 1918. Each year, as part of the Women's Day tradition (1914-1942), a senior woman representing beauty, personality, and achievement of the class was chosen as May Queen. On the day of celebration, all the women would gather at the amphitheatre to witness the coming of the Queen and her coronation ceremony during the passing of the pageant.

Women's Day

Originated in 1914 by the senior women's honor society, Eta Pi Upsilon, Women's Day was a tradition held every May in honor of the SU alumna.

Women's Day 10-0042

Each year women would gather at Yates Castle grounds to enjoy festivities of May morning breakfast, May Day pageantry, the Maypole Dance and the crowning of the May Queen. In the evening, a Lantern Ceremony was held, symbolizing the passing of traditions from one class to another. The singing of the Alma Mater then concluded this celebration of Women and their devotion and spirit to one another.

The Kissing Bench

Kissing Bench 10-0062 When the class of 1912 left a smooth stone bench as a memorial to the University, they thought they were beginning a tradition of graduating classes leaving similar memorials that would add to the beauty of the campus. The tradition that began with this bench, however, was completely different.

The Kissing Bench, as it came to be called, is a tradition rooted in SU history as firmly as the Calculus Burial or Moving Up Day, although no one knows exactly when the legend of the Kissing Bench began.

In the 1950's the tradition held that a co-ed kissed on the bench would not become a spinster. In the 1970's the tradition changed to that a woman must be kissed on the bench in order to graduate and marry. Currently, the tradition states that if a man and women kiss while sitting on the stone bench, the couple will eventually marry. Although the wording of the tradition has changed over time, the basic premise has stayed intact.

The bench, made of plain granite with the numbers 1912 engraved on the back, sits between the Hall of Languages and the Tolley Building. The bench was originally meant to be surrounded by low bushes, and at one time a huge tree stood behind and shaded the bench. Now a smaller tree provides the shade.

The numbers 1912 marking the back of the bench were re-engraved in 1950, because of time and weather.

The Kissing Bench of 1912 marked the first time a graduating class at Syracuse University ever left a memorial to the school.

Spring Weekend - A weekend full of tradition

Spring Weekend In early May, generally during the first weekend (Friday - Sunday), anyone coming to Syracuse University would have found the campus buzzing with excitement. Made up of a conglomeration of customs, Spring Weekend had its origins some 84 years ago with the establishment of Women's Day. Since that time, older and more recent traditions, which were rooted closely together on the calendar, were grouped together to form Spring Weekend.

Although the weekend was largely dedicated to women, a fact made fairly obvious when looking at some of the weekend's events, gender-neutral and male-oriented events and activities were added down through the years to make the whole affair more inclusive of the student body. Classes would compete against each other in tug-o-war matches. One beanie would be burned or buried and one senior thesis and yearbook would be burned to further signify that the academic year's end was near.

Themes were adopted for each Spring Weekend, which would be incorporated into many of the weekends activities.

  • 1941 Spanish/Latin American motif
  • 1947 The Circus
  • 1948 "Mythical Moments"
  • 1949 "The Gold Rush of '49"

For example, the 1947 pageant - "College Is a Two Ring Circus" - represented college life (classes, activities, studies and dating) in a comical manner.

Spring Weekend would survive two world wars and into the 1960s, but the turbulence of the decade proved to be the demise to most of the festivities associated with this tradition. Some traditional events of the weekend

  • Women Choral Competition on Hendricks Chapel stairs
  • First duties of the newly formed Goon Squad
  • Inauguration of the Women's Student Government President
  • Junior Prom
  • May Queen
  • Moving-Up Day
  • Pageant
  • Parade with Floats (Sorority and Fraternity Competition)
  • Singing/Musical Performances
  • Strawberry Breakfast
  • Tug-O-War

National Orange Day

Just when it seemed traditions were dying out, Syracuse University began National Orange Day on March 24, 1995. National Orange Day

In commemoration of SU's Founders Day, alumni around the world are asked to show their orange pride by sporting the color orange on the University's birthday. In addition, SU students and others participate in service-oriented activities such as Community Cleanup Day. Organized by the Syracuse University Alumni Association and the SU Student Association in an effort to instill new traditions and school spirit among alumni and friends, National Orange Day has hopes of being a legacy for the years to come.

Winter Carnival

Winter Carnival Winter Carnival was a conglomeration of events and traditions all rolled up into one weekend. The origin of this tradition (1933) was as a holiday before the onset of exams, but also a means to break the monotony of the winter months. Although the celebrations were slated for late January or early February, more often than not the weather would have different plans and the weekend's festivities would have to be postponed, sometimes up to three or more weeks later. Over the years, the Winter Carnival's duration has ranged from one to four days, although the average was generally two to three days. 1940 was the first year to see the event begin on the weekend when it was planned. Events included:

  • Carnival Queen
  • Dances (Stocking-foot and the Sno Ball)
  • Snow sculpting contest
  • Winter Sports

There was a decade long hiatus that began in 1969 and lasted until 1978. The event then had a resurgence during the 1980s. Unfortunately, this tradition, with all of its creativity and wholesome merriment, faded out of Syracusean life. The weekend was witness to a wide variety of sporting events. There were intramural hockey finals for the campus to watch. Even better were the events in which both male and female Syracuse University students could participate: skiing (cross country, downhill, slalom, and even a ski jump was later added), skating, and an obstacle course for skaters and skiers. Although many of the events were merely for fun, some competitions were held and awards were bestowed.

Winter Carnival "Snow Sculptures"

Snow Sculpture 09-1140 Snow sculpting, introduced in 1938, was probably the most visual representation of the weekend's festivities. Originally, the event was limited to the Greek houses. In the early 1940s, the contest was expanded to include non-Greek organizations and dormitories. Two award categories were established (Greek and non-Greek) with a trophy for each. A theme was decided on each year for the sculptures. Down through the years coloring (first time in 1939) and/or musical numbers were incorporated with the sculptures to accentuate the features or themes of the already magnificent creations. However, in some years coloring and/or music was specifically banned in order to recapture the essence of creativity.

Judging of sculptures was done by a panel made up of professors and administrators. A minimum of 10 entries were required for the contest to be official. Meeting this quota does not ever seem to have been a problem. In 1939, there were 41 entries, growing in number down through the years after the entry scope was increased.

Winter thaws could prove disastrous for the Carnival, but most notably for the sculptures. Many a year the tears were probably running at pace with the melt-off from the sculptures, which people worked so hard to create.

Winter Carnival "Carnival Queen"

May Queen 10-0040

The pageantry of Winter Carnival was played out with the election of a Carnival Queen. Each year a new queen was elected to oversee the Sno Ball. Only juniors could be elected for this lofty position. Generally, the reigning Queen from the previous year held the honor of bestowing the symbol of royalty upon the newly elected heir to the crown.

The selection of Carnival Queen was an involved process. Candidates were nominated by their sorority - one entry per house - and 10 by the Independent Women's Association (for a total of 31 candidates). Down through the years, the number of candidates increased. The nominees were reduced to seven by a panel of judges made up of Syracuse University professors and administrators. Finally, students attending the Sno Ball Dance voted on finalists by writing a name on their ticket stub.

In 1968 anyone could be nominated as a Carnival Queen for a fee of $2.00.