Embrace the holidays, redefine traditions away from home

A group of friends celebrates Friendsgiving together as a way to commemorate the Thanksgiving holiday while they are away from home and family. This modern twist on the traditional Thanksgiving feast is a tradition among many Americans as a way to celebrate with their chosen family for the holidays. Jenessa Walgren | Sun News Daily

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By Sarah Witt

When you think of family holiday traditions, you might imagine cuddling up by a roaring fire, watching Christmas movies with your family, picking out the perfect Christmas tree, or going on a sleigh ride.  

Maybe you’re one who pictures that “fun, old-fashioned family Christmas” desired by Clark Griswold in the holiday classic, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” Perhaps you share similar feelings to Ellen Griswold, Clark’s wife, when she tells her frustrated daughter, “I don’t know what to say except it’s Christmas, and we’re all in misery!” 

But one thing we can take away from that beloved movie is that the holiday season doesn’t look the same for everyone, especially those who are unable to return home for the holidays. Times have changed and family dynamics are sometimes complicated. Students may also have different perspectives on the holidays, so whether you are celebrating them in traditional ways or starting your own traditions, here is how you can celebrate the holidays away from home.  

Embrace a unique holiday experience 

Nathan Snow, an assistant professor of communication, went to graduate school in England at the University of Bristol. As someone who has been an international student before, Snow encourages any student looking for somewhere to go for Christmas to take advantage of the programs and resources that Utah Tech University offers to spend the holidays with faculty members.

Whether a personal choice or an inability to afford the travel expenses to go home, many students stay in St. George, away from their families for the holidays. The time away from family can be challenging, but it also creates an opportunity for students to find new ways to make the holiday season special and unique for them. 

“The first holiday that I was over there was a little hard, just because you miss the traditions that come with home,” Snow said. “But I quickly discovered that you could mitigate that home-sickness by experiencing what local holiday traditions are there that you could participate in. I just got this whole British Christmas experience…those now are some of my favorite holiday memories.” 

Find a home away from home 

Students come to Utah Tech to gain an education and life experience, but college can be stressful. It is a difficult transition to move away from home and still feel a sense of belonging. Specifically when the holiday season comes around, people need the support of others. 

“It’s a hard time for a lot of people, and I know that includes me,” said Caden Barrett, the LGBTQ student coordinator. “A lot of people are ostracized from their family for whatever reason, and so it’s really important just to spend it with people who you feel comfortable around and who you can be yourself around…whether that’s friends, other family or just peers.” 

Complicated and hostile homes can create a sense of chaos, and the holidays should be a time to feel a sense of peace and normalcy. The Center for Inclusion and Belonging offers a comforting, safe place for students.  

Try new traditions 

Ives Hong, a junior psychology major from Vietnam, said for his holidays away from home, he has taken himself to get a treat or dinner, celebrated with other international students, participated in campus activities, and spent Christmas with his chosen family. 

“I call them my chosen family because they really were a big help to me, and we’ve built our own kind of relationship,” Hong said. 

There are many cheap and easy activities to try out by yourself or with friends this year to celebrate the holidays. Some examples include: 

  • Serve others in your community by volunteering at the food pantry, food bank, animal shelter or community resource center.  
  • Hold a Friendsgiving or holiday party and have everyone bring a dish to share.  
  • Eat a meal or open presents with family over Zoom or FaceTime call.  
  • Find traditions from other countries and cultures to learn about and try for yourself.  

“The big holiday here is Christmas, and for us [in Vietnam], it’s our Lunar New Year that’s usually in February,” Hong said. “We do relatively similar things, and I think it would be awesome to celebrate Lunar New Year here.” 

Enjoy the break 

Avril Kester, a sophomore marketing major from Los Angeles, said as a non-resident, she doesn’t have a car with her at college or know any students to drive home with for holidays. Due to that and flights being too expensive, Kester has had to stay in St. George for most holidays since being in college. 

She has always made the best of her situation by relaxing and doing activities that were unique to her and made her happy. Things that bring joy don’t have to be expensive or complicated. For the holidays last year, Kester bought herself some food and watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  

“At the end of the day, holidays are just random days in the year that people have called special, but that doesn’t take away from the days that I do spend with people because those are just as special,” Kester said. 

Whether it looks like a traditional holiday experience or something completely new and unique to you, find some way to enjoy your holiday season away from home. The holidays are what you make of them, so choose how you’ll make them meaningful. Whether staying close or traveling far, as Clark Griswold said, “Have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas.”