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The Diversity of Holiday Traditions: This is how my followers celebrate

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

December holidays are a complicated time of year. Starting October, pieces of it are already trickling through in stores, then some lights go up in November, and finally everything screams ‘Christmas’ come December. But what actually are these holiday celebrations? Such a universal concept for a seemingly universal holiday. This ignores the diversity of cultures and religions around us, not to mention the circumstances shaping people’s lives. 

Perhaps then, we might say, talking about the holidays in public or with peers is based on what culture this is happening within. Yet, only 29% of my followers said cultural traditions were the most celebrated part of their holiday. This can vary from our Chapter Leader’s Slovakian tradition of keeping a carp fish in the bathtub, to one of our readers’ Portuguese tradition of leaving out a shoe per child (rather than a stocking) for baby Jesus to fill. From an international university, it is amazing to learn all these new cultural practices and anecdotes (even if we don’t plan on catching a carp anytime soon). 

But this diversity also results from a lot of students being away from home, and waiting for exams to end to be able to celebrate in their usual way, as 53% of my followers said their traditions originated within their family. Some offered examples such as moving Christmas dinner to Christmas Eve to make sure Christmas Day isn’t spent separating the family and slaving over cooking; to another’s family tradition of hot chocolate and pyjamas after a day’s preparation on Christmas Eve to watch a movie together. 

Precisely because of the emphasis on family, and this childhood nostalgia that comes with the holidays, it can also be one of the loneliest times of the year. 18% of my followers cherish their friend traditions the most. Do not hesitate to reach out to friends to meet up this Christmas, go to a Christmas market together or simply bemoan having to answer invasive questions or balance familial politics. One follower exchanges presents with their friends on the first of December (usually a decoration for the rest of the festive season) and organises a board games night. After my own deadline season, this Christmas tradition does sound perfect. 

From a student perspective, it is interesting to see how the holidays infiltrate student life, and I was interested to know how many people actually take part. 77% of my followers said they would not be celebrating a ‘Christmas’ at uni, but 75% also agreed society holiday events, from dinners to dances, were kind of worth it (though not entirely sold on the idea!). I can’t blame the ambivalence about society events when simply existing as a student can be costly enough, not to mention the expectations of gifts and food and travel that come with the holidays. 

As such, I wanted to see how they budget these expectations while still spending time with friends, as well as what their priorities are. For 50% of them, the classic Secret Santa is how they’ve decided to celebrate this Christmas with friends. Cost effective and thoughtful, everyone gets together and everyone gets something. Similarly, 14% were meeting up to celebrate with a potluck dinner, an alternative in which everyone puts in an equal bit of effort and shares the rewards and can share their cultural experiences and personal understandings of the holidays. For these to work, it requires a friend group situated in the same place – you can’t have a Secret Santa with only one other person. This may explain their popularity among students where this is not so difficult to organise, especially in shared housing. On the other hand, 29% agreed to do a regular gift exchange, though I cannot guess whether this is due to long distance, smaller groups or having such a perfect gift in mind that you cannot leave it up to the chance of a name in a hat. Lastly, 7% agreed no gifts (I was honestly surprised by the low number), which works just as well when you do not rely on conventions to pressure you into either spending money you don’t have, or buying a knick knack for them to hide in their cupboard.

Traditions allow you to carve out a time of the year dedicated to your family and friends, to reconnect with your culture and background, and maybe even give yourself a moment of peace, allowing yourself to rest, if only just for a night. There is no right way to celebrate, or one meaning to the December holidays. I hope you take the chance to step away from your studies for a moment, enjoy your break and every tradition that comes with it.

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Aislinn Nolan

St Andrews '23

Hi! I'm Aislinn, I'm an Mlitt Women, Writing and Gender student. I wrote reviews during my undergraduate (and worked on committee for the Feminist Society), and have worked as both a poetry editor and as a publishing intern. I love reading, creative writing, and engaging with arts and culture.