The Freshman 15: Celebrating the Holidays from Afar

Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish and partially-Jewish readers! Tonight, like many other holidays, is a night typically shared with family and friends, as observers exchange gifts and enjoy household traditions. However, some college students will spend the entire duration of this holiday away from home because of final exams and a few lingering classes. In fact, while we may have Christmas break (and some might not even have that!) and many of us do travel home for Thanksgiving weekend, we do run into this problem on plenty of other occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, mid-semester holidays, etc. Even for those of us who will get to celebrate Christmas with our families, we still miss out on some of the pre-holiday preparations – the weeks of decorating, menu-planning and gift-shopping that some people might do together.

So, does this mean that college students are doomed to lose all holiday cheer? This month’s Freshman 15 is all about how to get in the holiday spirit even when you’re far from home. — Tweet this!

Grab your coats and boots, and let’s get started!

The Freshman 15: Celebrating the Holidays from Afar

1. Decorate your dorm room.
While the picture shown on the right doesn’t do it much justice, my three roommates and I wanted to make sure that our apartment was festive for the holidays. Because we come from different backgrounds and religions or non-religions, our room represents both Christmas and Hanukkah, with an electric menorah plugged in by the window, and Christmas lights and garlands lining the walls and ceilings. You don’t have to go all out, but it’s nice to put up a few holiday decorations here and there just so you have something celebratory to come home to. You can purchase these really cute window clings for $1 at Target, or start the search on your own. Besides, I am a firm believer in the idea that personalizing your dorm room or apartment makes you feel much more at home!

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2. Participate in a gift exchange.
Get together with a core group of friends and set up a Secret Santa or other type of gift exchange. Come up with price limits so that no one ends up with an unfair deal or completely breaks their bank accounts. Presents are definitely not what the holidays are all about, but rather the spirit of giving!

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3. Send out holiday cards to faraway friends and family.
Just because you might not get to see each other on the actual holiday doesn’t mean you can’t wish each other a happy holiday! While a Facebook message can be quick and easy, it’s hardly the most personal way to contact someone, and often text messages can even feel like they were sent out en masse. Instead, a simple card can be endearing. When your friends open their mail and see something waiting there from you, they won’t be able to stop smiling.

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4. Throw your own holiday party!
You’re not alone – plenty of your friends at school will be separated from their families during holiday seasons at one point or another, so why not celebrate the holidays with them? Last year, I threw a small Chrismukkah get-together, complete with latkes and Christmas cookies, and this year it’s going to get a lot bigger. Next Tuesday, my friends and I will celebrate in style! Your party can be as outrageous or low-key as you want it to be, and you can ask friends to help chip in.

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5. Ask your family for left-over items.
If you’re ever going to be home before the holiday and not during, ask if you can steal some extra holiday decorations or other items for your own use at school. In fact, I stole #5 on this list from my mom! Chances are, your family has accumulated a lot of excess holiday decor throughout the years, and more times than not, they’d be happy to part with some of it.

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6. Go to a service.
For those of you who celebrate certain holidays more religiously than others, you might feel more in tune with the holiday if you attend a church or synagogue service. Campuses are usually crawling with groups that are ready to take you in, and if not, you can always look around the community for something that appeals to you. I’m not preaching any religion here, but I do think that being a part of a congregation during the holidays can be comforting to some, and if you’re one of those people, you should consider the option.

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7. Volunteer your time.
This may be the Season of Giving, but that doesn’t limit you to just gifts among friends and family. Because others in the world are less fortunate and don’t have the same luxuries we take for granted, doing some volunteer work may be beneficial at this time of the year. Whether you choose one of those Angels at the mall or you visit a soup kitchen, you can make a difference and make someone else’s holiday season a little brighter.

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8. Build a gingerbread house!
It’s fun to be crafty with your friends. Every year when I’m home on a break, my sister and I decorate our own eccentric gingerbread houses (see this year’s example on the right) with our cousins and friends who are visiting, and it’s a great way to be creative and spread our holiday cheer. Not only is it a fun process, but it also lasts for a while afterward, and provides plenty of laughs and smiles along the way.

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9. Bake something delicious.
The way to a college student’s heart is through his or her stomach, right? So if your dorm room, apartment or other living arrangement is equipped for baking, then win everyone’s heart by baking something holiday-esque for them. Either borrow an old family recipe, pick up some break-and-bake cookies from the grocery store (still arguably just as yummy as any other homemade cookie!) or try out one of these adorable cupcake designs.

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10. Leave notes for your neighbors.
If you’re feeling creative or just hospitable, write sweet little notes wishing people the happiest of holidays, and then tape those notes to your neighbors’ doors for them to come back to. You can sign them from yourself and your roommates (always a fun bonding activity), or you can keep them anonymous. Either way, it’s one of those random acts of kindness that you can’t help but feel good about afterward.

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11. Enjoy the cold[er] weather.
We all tend to associate a drop in temperatures with the holiday season. Even if you’re from Florida like me and all you’re ever exposed to are cold fronts, you know that the holidays aren’t complete without a sweater and scarf. Therefore, one way to feel festive is to go outside and really enjoy the cold weather. Build a snowman. Have a snowball fight. Go ice skating. Floridians, go on a picnic but wear a jacket. Embrace the cooler temperatures because before you know it, you’ll be melting in the heat once more.

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12. Showcase old family traditions.
When you celebrate the holidays with your college friends, everyone should bring a piece of their traditional experiences to the rest of the group. Cook that special dish that has been passed down through your family for years, and try out some of the new customs that your friends bring to the table. Seeing your friends in a setting they might normally experience with family can actually bring a group closer and teach you something about those people you never even realized.

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13. Watch your favorite holiday movies.
Whether it’s Shop Around the Corner, It’s a Wonderful Life or Nightmare Before Christmas, boost your spirits by watching a movie that pertains to the holiday you’re celebrating. Sip some hot chocolate and bundle up.

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14. Pump up the volume.
Create a holiday playlist on your iPod or online, and play it whenever you want to feel just a little jollier. Taylor Swift does an adorable cover of Last Christmas!

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15. Create your own traditions.
Yes, it’s hard to be away from home during holidays, but as you create a brand new “family” at school (not to replace your old one, of course), you will find that new events become important to you, and new traditions will emerge. Embrace the changes that you undergo, and enjoy the spirit of the holidays no matter where you go!

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How do you like to celebrate the holidays? What are your plans?

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