As Mount Holyoke College’s oldest tradition, Mountain Day is clearly doing something right — very right.
The first Mountain Day
Mountain Day began in 1838, just months after the first students arrived on campus. It has seen evolutions in transportation, attire, rules (think chaperones and special permissions) and best-practices in picnicking.
When is Mountain Day?
Mountain Day is not a specific day on the academic calendar — the date varies each year and is a close-held secret until the day arrives. Mountain Day was held in June until 1893 and has been in the fall since.
The mode of transportation has also changed over time. For many years, horse draw wagons and hayrides were used to transport students up to the summit.
An enduring tradition
Mountain Day has also endured through times of calamity. Since 1838, Mountain Day has been suspended just a handful of times — during the Civil War and in the aftermath of the 1896 fire that claimed the College’s original Seminary Building. It has also been tweaked — such as when many students spent the day helping local farmers during the World Wars.
Mountain Day does what traditions do best: It combines symbolism (“Climb to new heights!”) with camaraderie and good times. It is highly anticipated, cloaked in secrecy and steeped in history (College founder Mary Lyon had a penchant for exercise and fresh air). It celebrates our very sense of place. The stunning views atop Mount Holyoke (the College’s namesake) inspire awe, gratitude, wonder, reflection and peace.
The view from the top
At just shy of 1,000 feet, the Mount Holyoke summit offers panoramic views of the Connecticut River as it winds through the Pioneer Valley’s interlaced farm fields. As the westernmost peak of the Holyoke Range, it delivers a glimpse of mountains in three states. It’s a haven for leaf-peepers in fall and for bird watchers year round. It was one of the nation’s top tourist destinations in the 19th century, second only to Niagara Falls, and home to New England’s first horse-powered (later, steam-powered) tramway. And all of this is just four miles from campus.
The gift that is Mountain Day
The moment the bell in the Mary Lyon Hall clock tower clangs it's eighth ring at 7 am, Mountain Day swings into motion. The bell goes on to peal 100 times — audible as it reverberates throughout campus — and the cheering begins.
Mountain Day today
Today the attire is shorts, pants, boots and sneakers, rather than long dresses and parasols, and students arrive to the trailhead in shuttle buses, not by horse and carriage. Up on the mountain the day often starts out brisk and windy. Early summiters come layered up and ready to peel down as the sun rises in the sky.
A tradition complete with ice cream, buttons and tattoos
Dining Services delivers the ice cream to the summit (over 1,000 Hoodsie Cups are served each year) and the team from Archives & Special Collections brings button-making materials.
The Alumnae Association arrives early with boxes of temporary tattoos — a favorite Mountain Day tradition. They also often bring a map of the world with a flags marking the regions of the alumnae reunions in honor of Mountain Day. From Massachusetts to Malaysia, alums jump into action to hold their own Mountain Day celebrations in their own communities, complete with ice cream, hiking and friendship.
Details aside, the anticipation of the day and joy when it finally arrives is the same as ever — in South Hadley and around the world. Students, staff, faculty, alumnae and people from around the Pioneer Valley engage in hikes, ice cream, tattoos, buttons, renditions of the “Alma Mater,” and lots and lots of selfies.
And everywhere, everyone saying, “Happy Mountain Day!”