The Top 10 College Thanksgiving Traditions


For many students, Thanksgiving represents the first time they’ll leave their new dormitory life behind and come back home to reconnect with friends and family. However, this is not always the case. For instance, a four-day weekend is not long enough for international students to travel home (for a holiday their countries don’t even celebrate), and indeed, even for American students, the inconvenience and cost of traveling during the holiday can make it impractical and exhausting. So colleges are increasingly giving students ways to celebrate Turkey Day that make it appealing to stick around, or even invite their own families. Here are 10 cool ways our schools celebrate Thanksgiving:

  1. A Family Celebration at Hesston College

    For 45 years now, Hesston College, a two-year Mennonite school in Hesston, Kan., has hosted Thanksgiving Weekend: A Family Celebration. According to the school’s website, “The weekend lineup includes activities for all ages, including a traditional Thanksgiving meal, music concerts, a talent show, men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, a two-mile run/walk and a luminary walk at Dyck Arboretum.”

  2. Turkey Trot at Lehigh University

    An even more venerable tradition can be found at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. Each year before the big game with Lafayette College (billed as the oldest college football rivalry in America: 147 games over 128 years), Lehigh hosts a 2.6-mile run called the Turkey Trot. This year’s will be the 56th Trot.

  3. Thanksgiving Day Dinner at Ohio State University

    Starting in the early 1990s, Ohio State began to host a Thanksgiving dinner at the Frank W. Hale Black Cultural Center for students who couldn’t make it home for the holiday. Today it’s “the largest free Thanksgiving dinner in the United States to be held on a university campus on Thanksgiving Day.” There is also a separate event called the Alternative Harvest Thanksgiving Dinner where the American Indian Council and the Multicultural Center present “authentic indigenous” cuisine, and a Hispanic Business Student Association “Thanksgiving dinner with a salsa twist.”

  4. Spiritual Development Month at Carnegie Mellon University

    At CMU in Pittsburgh, Pa., Thanksgiving caps off a November that’s designated as Spiritual Development Month. A variety of educational and ecumenical events are held throughout the month focusing on all kinds of faith traditions. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, students are blessed with an enhanced understanding of each other and their many reasons to give thanks. A campus-wide feast and celebration is held the Monday of Thanksgiving Week, so that all students can participate, especially in the charity food drive that embodies the spiritual awareness they’ve gained.

  5. Dinner with the president at Lindsey Wilson College

    At this four-year school in Columbia, Kentucky, Bill and Elise Luckey, the college president and his wife, host an enormous dinner for 60 or so (mostly international) students in their own house. They’ve been doing it since 1998 in order to entertain kids who’d otherwise have to fend for themselves, but behind the fun is a lot of work: last year’s cooking involved “two 24-pound turkeys, a whole turkey breast, and two hams.”

  6. The Turkey Day Classic at Alabama State University

    Now in its 89th year, the Turkey Day Classic between Alabama State and Tuskegee University is the oldest Classic (rivalry football games traditionally played Thanksgiving weekend) among black colleges, and one of the few in the nation still held on the holiday itself. This year’s should be unique, as it will take place at ASU’s new stadium, still under construction.

  7. The March to Kreiderheim at Lebanon Valley College

    This one doesn’t happen quite every year, just if students at LVC in Annville, Pa., get lucky. When their Dutchmen beat rival Albright College from Reading, the fans gather (more than 400 of them last year, a quarter of the student body) to march to the college president’s estate, Kreiderheim. Shouting “we want off,” they demand classes be canceled the day before Thanksgiving, and (again, assuming an LVC win) the request is granted. Unfortunately, the Dutchmen lost 26-14 this year.

  8. Food for Fines at Nazareth College

    Despite the name, Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y., has been nonsectarian since the 1970s, though it was founded by Catholic nuns in 1924. Each November they have an ingenious program, cosponsored by the Center for Spirituality, the Nursing Department, and the Campus Safety Department, called Food for Fines, in which the parking tickets of students, faculty, and staff are forgiven in exchange for nonperishable foods for Thanksgiving food baskets.

  9. Try-Athlon at Loyola Marymount University

    Lest we forget, Thanksgiving also kicks off the holiday weight-gain season. So at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, in the 20 days leading up to Turkey Day, students have a chance to participate in Try-Athlon, described as “a full Ironman competition spread over 20 days. The program, sponsored by the Burns Recreation Center, challenges students to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles by Nov. 24.”

  10. Faculty serving students food at Arkansas State University

    There’s a 35-year-old Thanksgiving tradition at ASU in Jonesboro, Ark., where professors serve a buffet meal (cooked by the usual dining services staff) for students both domestic and international. Carving ham and turkey and ladling heaping helpings of sides is the faculty’s way of showing appreciation to their students, with whom they then sit, socialize, and get stuffed. It’s a great way to reinforce the idea that the campus is really one big family.

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