Homecoming is a time to celebrate shared experiences, when alumni from high schools and colleges return to their alma maters from around the world to reconnect with people, places and traditions. More than just a football game, the modern homecoming has evolved into a week of celebrations ranging from tailgate parties and bonfires to formal dances and the coronation of a homecoming court.
The First Homecoming
The NCAA credits the University of Missouri with the first homecoming event. In 1911 Mizzou's Athletic Director Chester Brewer invited alumni to "come home" for the annual game against the University of Kansas. The event drew over 10,000 alumni and fans for a weekend of speeches, rallies, dances and a parade, with the big game as the weekend's center point.
Football Takes Center Stage
As the popularity of football grew on campuses across the U.S., several schools hit on the idea to hold a large-scale celebration to bolster school spirit and connect current students with alumni. Often times the coronation of a new football field or a big rival game was highlighted to focus homecoming celebrations.
History Takes its Toll
The University of Illinois claims to have the longest running homecoming tradition, starting in 1910 and only skipping one year--1918 when the influenza epidemic kept people from gathering in large numbers.
Crowning of the Queen
The homecoming court has its origins in the 1930s. Originally chosen based on a composite of the float she was riding and the person herself, later queens and kings were nominated and ultimately chosen based on their qualities as an individual.
One of the earliest instances of the homecoming bonfire was on the campus of Baylor University in 1909. Freshmen maintained overnight fires to safeguard the Baylor campus against raids from cross-town rival Texas Christian University.
Mums the Word
Mums are short for chrysanthemums--the fall flower largely associated with homecoming. The exchanging of mums has evolved in the southwestern U.S. into corsages and garters exchanged by high school students. As long as three feet and weighing up to 12 pounds, mums are elaborately decorated with chrysanthemum blossoms, ribbons, bells and trinkets denoting name, class and special interests.
Party in the Parking Lot
The tailgate party has emerged as the pre-eminent event for homecoming week celebrations. Alumni, students and fans will travel from all over the world to attend the festivities taking place in the parking lot outside of a stadium. Many tailgaters don't even have tickets for the game--they're just there for the party.
Everyone Loves a Parade
The modern homecoming parade includes the school's marching band, the homecoming court, a variety of floats based upon a chosen theme and a leader of the parade--usually the school's grand marshal. Parades may take place on the school campus or run the length of a town's main street, inviting the majority of the town's citizens and businesses to take part.
Catch the Spirit
Spirit days or dress-up days are most popular during high school homecoming week. Different themes designated throughout the week invite students to dress in costumes or school colors to show their school spirit. Common themes include toga day, geek week and school spirit day.