Mariah Carey, reindeer, big meals, lights, snow, trees… oh and homesickness. The Christmas season has a lot of perks for graduate students, but for a fair share of us, it is also the one time we are reminded that we cannot be with our family. Whether you are an international student, or a domestic one unable to go home, the question “what are you doing for Christmas this year?” can be a daunting one.
During my first year of spending Christmas in Canada, many people asked me what I was going to do. As Christmas is not a big holiday back home – we have the day off, but it is more a church related holiday than a commercial one – I did not understand that this was an important decision for me to make. Rather than accepting any invitations to join others on their family dinners (my own family is weird enough, thank you), I ended up on Christmas day wondering what I was supposed to do. Everybody I knew had left Kingston, and suddenly I felt all alone. Add to that the fact that I didn’t realize that the shops would be closed on Christmas (Canada doesn’t close their stores on any day, so why this one) and that I was thus resorted to the frozen pizza that I had left in the freezer. This would have been fine, but in my moment of self-pity, I ended up forgetting to set a timer, burned the pizza, and ended up with no dinner at all – the worst Christmas story ever!
Luckily, people learn from their mistakes, and in the years after I have had the pleasure to join a Bulgarian-Canadian Christmas dinner (they hide coins in bread), an Italian-Canadian Christmas dinner (fish, fish, fish, pasta), a Chinese-Canadian Christmas dinner (my fav!) and a settler Canadian Christmas dinner (turkey galore). Although I did feel awkward joining in on others’ family dinners, it took off the edge of the homesickness and gave me many new memories to share. So, if you get an invitation, don’t say no immediately, and consider whether it could actually be an opportunity to experience something new! And if you don’t have an invitation, or want to try something else, the QUIC has set up the Holiday Celebration Host Program, where international students are invited to visit a local family for a free holiday meal.
If you don’t feel that adventurous – or just don’t want to deal with someone else’s uncle – I recommend setting up something with friends the days before. You can organize something like Friendsmas, where you exchange presents, or watch bad (good) Hallmark Christmas movies together. Go for a walk to the downtown market square to see the big Christmas tree and sit by the firepits, or join the Holiday Meet Up organized by QUIC on December 28th and 30th. For those with access to the dining halls, Queen’s is hosting Hanukkah meals in the Queen’s dining halls between December 18 – 21, and on December 19th you can decorate cookies at Leonard Hall for dinner.
This should not have to be said, but obviously there is nothing wrong with being on your own for Christmas, call your family, go for a walk, or hibernate inside under a layer of blankets. The beauty of Christmas is that we don’t have grading work for a week, and you are always allowed to take care of yourself. But a word of advice from a senior Christmas foreigner, please set a timer for the oven!