Dragon Day

The 2016 dragon departs from Rand Hall.
The 2016 Dragon begins its trek up East Avenue.
First-year architecture students celebrate the end of the 2016 parade on the Arts Quad.
The 2015 dragon getting finishing touches.
First-year students celebrate as the 2015 dragon comes to rest on the arts quad.
Students welded the steel tube dragon frame for Dragon Day 2014.
First-year students on parade during Dragon Day 2014.
First-year students on parade.
The 2013 dragon's mid section in front of Uris Hall.
First-year students celebrate their successful march around campus and arrival on the Arts Quad during Dragon Day 2013.
Students get ready to start the 2012 Dragon Day parade.
The 2012 dragon parades past Goldwin Smith Hall.
Final preparation for the 2011 dragon.
Dragon Day 2011.
A sun-filled day for the 2010 Dragon Day parade.
The 2010 dragon.
The 2009 dragon was the 108th in Cornell's history.
Scenes from the 2009 Dragon Day parade.

Every year in mid-March, in a tradition that goes back more than 100 years, an enormous dragon created by first-year architecture students parades across campus. Accompanied by AAP students in outrageous costumes, the dragon lumbers to the Arts Quad where it does battle with a phoenix created by rival engineering students. This rite of spring is one of Cornell’s best-known traditions.

History of Dragon Day:*

The idea of Dragon Day is credited to Cornellian Willard Dickerman Straight '01, who believed that there should be a distinctive College of Architecture Day. At the time, he chose St. Patrick's Day, and the first College of Architecture Day was celebrated with the hanging of orange and green banners (orange to appease the campus's Protestant population), shamrocks, and other thematic decorations on Lincoln Hall, which at the time housed the College of Architecture. Later, the additional theme of celebrating St. Patrick's success in driving the serpents out of Ireland became attached to the holiday. 

How the first parade evolved into a rite of initiation for the first-year architecture class — ending with the burning of the dragon on the Arts Quad, a tradition that has since been abandoned — has not been revealed. Dragon Day as it is celebrated today (with an actual constructed dragon, and the associated ceremonies) evolved some time in the 1950s when the serpents previously used "grew up." Though history also isn't clear when the actual phrase "Dragon Day" was introduced, speculation suggests that it might have also been in the 1950s. Prior to this time, the holiday was still celebrated as primarily College of Architecture Day, and the theme was less focused around the dragon.

The rivalry between the College of Architecture and the College of Engineering students before and during Dragon Day celebrations seems to have simply developed through history, and is now embodied through engineering students' construction of a creature to challenge the dragon symbolically — specifically, a phoenix. 

For several decades, Dragon Day was celebrated either on St. Patrick's Day, or immediately before Spring Break — whichever date happened first. When a new academic calendar was introduced in 2013, Spring Break moved later into the month of March and Dragon Day is now routinely celebrated the day before students leave campus for a week in late March.

*History is excerpted from the University Archives