How are university students spending the festive season?

Depending on where you are around the world, whether you are studying internationally or not, it can be hard to get in the festive spirit if you are away from home

Weronika Denes


Maggie Lu


Sumeet Sekhon

December 16 2019
How are university students celebrating Christmas?


Weronika Denes, psychology, University of Lincoln

In Poland on 6 December, we celebrate Santa Claus Day and exchange small gifts with our loved ones. Although this tradition is not common in the UK, my friends and I at university met up around this day to give each other “Secret Santa” presents and to spend some time together.

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In the centre of Lincoln, a novelty bar called Thor’s Tipi Bar is set up and it serves festive hot drinks. This is a great place to go and feel Christmassy while still being at university and writing essays for all the deadlines for the first semester. Closer to Christmas Eve, before we all return home for celebrations with our families, we visit a Christmas market. There is nothing better than to finish the first term of the second year with friends, hot chocolate and giggles.

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Maggie Lu, English and Spanish, University of Chicago

With its heavy emphasis on academics, the University of Chicago’s Christmas spirit wouldn’t be complete without the accompanying tradition of snowed-in studying around campus. Called the “Study at the…” series, leading up to finals, the university has a December tradition of letting students study and snack on pizza, pastries and fruit in inspirational landmarks such as the Rockefeller Chapel, the Smart Museum of Art and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts on a certain day and time. Study breaks include a 11:30am carillon tower climb and free massages provided by the wellness centre.

Other times, students just kick back and relax. An annual tradition called Uncommon Nights transforms Hutchinson Commons to celebrate the beginning of reading period and get in the Christmas spirit. This quarter’s theme, Cozy Creations, entailed making your own gingerbread house, decorating cookies, a hot chocolate bar, food and relaxation among friends and cosy candlelight. Continuing the theme were giveaways that included fluffy blankets, beanies and scarves.

Most dorms are closed during the winter break, but students who remain on campus may stay at the International-House. During this period, students will often spend time watching classic holiday films such as Elf and Home Alone in the lounge areas, along with checking out the Christkindlmarket, the Museum of Science and Industry’s “Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light Festival,” and Navy Pier’s Winter WonderFest in downtown Chicago.

Sumeet Sekhon, postdoctoral fellow, University of British Columbia

Christmas, a wonderful time of the year for most, can be isolating for international graduate students. University campuses are abuzz with classes, seminars and club activities during the academic terms, but they start to acquire a deserted look as the end of the autumn semester approaches. Most students leave to join their families for Christmas, but many international students lack the financial resources required to make a trip to their home countries. While graduate students earn some money through their research and teaching assistantship duties, it is barely adequate for their living expenses.

During the years I spent in graduate school in Canada, I can distinctly recall feeling left out when students, as well as faculty and staff members, would discuss their Christmas and New Year plans. Most years, I had no Christmas dinners to attend, no shopping to do, and no gifts to wrap. Moreover, for the first few winters I spent in Canada, I was ill-equipped to deal with the cold weather. Battling low energy levels brought about by sub-zero temperatures, and lacking the means and the skills to participate in winter activities such as skiing and ice-skating, I would choose to stay indoors most of the time.

But I slowly made great friends, who began to invite me to their homes during the holiday season. Only then did I start to acquire a sense of belonging and to discover little Christmas treasures such as eggnog, mulled wine and Christmas pudding. I now enjoy this time of the year and keep my eyes peeled for international students in need of a little Christmas cheer.

Read more: Staying at university over Christmas? You are not alone

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