In very simple terms, yes: the Christmas vacation is arguably the worst of the year. It is usually the shortest— 39 days this year. It may seem very long and to our friends at other universities or in employment, very generous, but is actually a period of great stress for many students. It comes after a very draining term, Michaelmas— always a hit to the system after a long summer. For freshers, this is probably the hardest term in general, trying to navigate the complexities and rigour of Oxford for the whole term only to pack up and go back home after spending eight weeks trying to settle in. However, now they are going back with the added burden of probably an overdraft, a heap of academic work, a temporary loss of all their new friends and newfound freedom and the impending pressure of collections. To top it all off, everyone wants to ask how university is going, how the course is, or how much you must love it all, when in reality sometimes you just want a mental break from it all.
The Christmas vacation is also expensive; whilst many may not have to pay for accommodation during these periods by moving out of college, the money spent trying to have a social life and visit all the friends and family members you haven’t seen in a while can quickly add up. Not to mention that a term at Oxford can be very expensive, probably using up most, if not all, of your student loan, especially if your family or partner has not been able to help financially support you. With this in mind, and the fact the next student loan installment won’t be until the start of next term, you might be taking on part-time work to try and build up your bank balance before next term. The stress of finances and academic work are hard enough without having to work shifts, a time consuming activity which some tutors do not understand is a necessity for some students. Not to mention that this takes so much out of the time you could spend relaxing with those dearest to you, or just having some uninterrupted time to yourself. With all of these pressures combined, the idea of gift-giving can feel more like a burden than a happy exchange, especially when the budget is tight.
The Christmas period in general, without all the revision and assignments, is one of the most isolating for people who do not have a consistent home life. We are constantly attacked by images of people huddled under a tree with an abundance of presents sitting underneath it. We are inundated with songs and films which depict happy families, lovers and magical white Christmasses. Unfortunately, the commercials sell dreams and not everyone has such a wonderful home to go to, or people to care for them. For some students, returning home may not be an option at Christmas, so while everyone else leaves Oxford, they remain in city devoid of so many of the people who make it home, all while being bombarded by images of the magical Christmas ideal that ignores the fact that it is a day that can feel very isolating. It is a day where transport stops and public buildings are closed so people are forced to accept that this is a time where society expects them to have someone, it can be lonely. Additionally, Oxford, like many other cities in the UK, has a massive homelessness problem, and though there are many organisations who work to bring warmth and festive joy to those in need, winter is the toughest time for those on the street, or those whose families struggle to afford heating or food over the holidays.
In many ways, Christmas is the most beautiful time of year, but for those of us lucky enough to have somewhere to go and people to share it with, let’s count our blessings whilst remembering and doing our best to help those we know who don’t have the same privilege.
The Oxford Homelessness Project is running a Christmas meal and need donations and volunteers (they will be having a three course dinner, handing out gifts, playing music and board games!).
For students who are finding university difficult to afford the university has a fund which you can access regardless of household income, you should really consider applying, you deserve to have time to put into your education and wellbeing without the constant pressure of worrying you won’t have enough: https://www.ox.ac.uk/students/fees-funding/assistance/hardship/alf?wssl=1