So, you’ve made it through Michaelmas unscathed and alive (albeit broke). You have somehow come up against library all-nighters, endured painful critical reading, held up the stamina for daily lab sessions, and yes, you’ve won. Congratulations, you deserve something shiny, or at the very least a first in collections, but for now the prize manifests itself in the Christmas Vac.
I’ve experienced 19 Christmases in my lifetime, and so I’d deem myself relatively skilled at the festive season. For example, I know the correct order to ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas,’ including number ten, where the ten lords-a-leaping are disappointingly forgotten by many a pub-quizzer. I’ve more or less perfected my present buying strategies (amazon, gift-wrapping all you ‘add to basket’ so as to save unnecessary effort, of course). I’ve even, rather unfortunately, been a first hand witness to what happens when eggnog goes wrong. However, little did I know that eight family-free weeks at Uni would lull me into a false sense of parentless security come Christmas time. I was ignorant to the Darwinesque ‘survival of the fittest’ that would come from close proximity to those I share my DNA with. For me, like many households across Britain, the battle of the University Student is fully underway, and this time, it’s personal.
Christmas at the tender age of say, eight, we can look back upon now with a certain nostalgia. Gone are the days when we woke our parents up at 6 o’clock in the morning for stocking unwrapping, arguing that 6am is a perfectly satisfactory, ‘sociable’ time for present opening, and comparing it to [insert any fictional child’s name] who wakes her parents up at 5.30am so they should count themselves lucky, really. Gone is our belief in a curvaceous old man dressed in red who, for some strange reason, made it his mission every year to hand out presents to the 2.2 billion children in the world. Further still, we did not even think of questioning how Mr. Claus managed to find the time, stomach capacity, and sobriety to eat copious amounts of mince pies and drink cup after cup of sherry and still make the rounds.
Yes, Christmas as a kid was debatably the best time of the year (birthdays were also held in equally high esteem), and the 12 days of Christmas, that is, the days between Christmas day and the 5th of January, were prime present exploration time/fun family ‘bonding’ time. Our close family friends and relatives would pop over amid our present playing to tell us ‘how much we’d grown,’ (‘none, I’m the same height you last saw me, Nan,’) and would desperately try to fool us into thinking they’d ‘got your nose’. We tolerated our relatives because our parents told us to, and we tolerated our parents because puberty hadn’t kicked in. We also had the latest toy/video game from the Argos catalogue to distance us from reality.
Nowadays, some of the magic of Santa still lives on through the efforts of our parents. Christmas day is generally successful; Mum’s caved in and finally realised the necessity of a PlayStation 3, a new puppy, GHD’s or whatever else we couldn’t afford without our parents’ generosity. We can tolerate board games and family movie time on the big day itself, the three hour Monopoly game becoming more and more ruthlessly competitive. However, it’s the time after Christmas day which necessitates that students across Britain fine tune their family coping mechanisms.
The twelve days of Christmas is the time when the family friends and elderly relatives we’ve successfully avoided since last Yule Tide come back into our lives. It is also the period where we realise board games are aptly named, the time where we overdose on turkey pie, turkey sandwiches, and turkey curry, and the period where our parents’ nagging really start to remind us how much we miss Uni. Some words of advice, then, on how to survive the family-filled break between Christmas and Uni.
1) Take advantage of as much free food and drink you can. I’m not saying wait until your parents aren’t looking and quickly empty the fridge, but what I am saying is that when your parents offer you wine, or seconds for meals, you should indulge (with moderation…). Christmas is the one time of the year where you can openly be a glutton without judgement or guilt, and without spending your cherished student loan. Food and drink can also allow you to become slightly immune to any questions disguised as insults by interrogating relatives. For example:
Offensive relative (probably grandparent): “You’re 20 next month dear, isn’t it time you started to settle down a bit. Brian and I were married when we were your age.”
You: “Oh, you’re so funny, here, more wine?”
This tactic works with all subjects, from your relationship status, political beliefs or religion to those concerning your questionable choice of hair colour.
2) Stay out of the kitchen during meal preparation. Unless you’re the one cooking, just avoid this danger zone at all times. You won’t win against the parent: it’s a given fact; this is their turf. Even if you’re just going in for a drink, you will undoubtedly be doing something wrong and be blamed for when any food item/items burn, regardless of your intervention.
3) Invite a friend over. Strength in numbers: the old cliché, but here it really does work. Not only will a friend not nag at you for leaving dirty dishes in your room, but you can actually have genuine fun in the comfort of your own home. I’m serious. A sparkly new friend to dinner can also distract attention away from you, allowing the floor to open up new questions aimed at your guest. Preferably pick someone self-absorbed, who will need less prompting when conversation turns to them.
4) Go out. You’re home, so go visit old school friends you’ve neglected for a month or two. And Facebook chat doesn’t count for a ‘reunion.’ Make sure you have some killer New Year’s plans since staying cooped up with the close family as you ring in 2012 is never a good plan (unless you’re ridiculously family tolerant, in which case, go ahead.).
5) Have alone time. When times get tense with Mum or your siblings are grinding at your nerves for no apparent reason, sometimes you just need to bask in nothingness, or spend some quality time with your favourite TV series. If you can’t get away from the chaos, suddenly acquire an illness which, while having no obvious physical symptoms, requires copious bed rest. This way, you’ll get space whilst managing to elicit some sympathy from the rest of the household. Score. And if you’re not very capable at ‘catching’ bizarre illnesses, or are a highly flawed dramatist, then do as a third year English student does and “develop a reputation as the ‘unsociable one:’ that way people don’t think you’re being abnormally rude when you hide in your room.”
6) Remind yourself it’s only for a short time. So what are you doing being so grumpy? In a few weeks time you’re going to be back in the Oxford bubble, back to the essay crises and the formal halls. Put a little effort in for the family; let the toddler hobble through your legs, tell your loopy Grandma that yes, all your talents are from her, maybe even tolerate and entertain your parents. You never know, you might just find yourself enjoying home life in return (even if it’s just a little bit). Oh, and that expensive Canon camera you wanted for you birthday – you might just get it.