The Winter Holidays: How AUC Celebrates

By Pola Folwarczny and Roan Jorna

Collage by Sabine Besson

Rashmi Bopitiya (second-year Science major):

“I already knew during the summer holidays that I wouldn’t go to Sri Lanka to see my family for Christmas. It’s too intense; the situation there is really bad – how could I go back? My family is already unsure of their winter plans and my trip there would only put an additional financial burden on my parents. It would be very difficult to plan out a good holiday. Because of that, I decided to join my roommate, one of my best friends, in seeing her family in Morocco. 

It will be very interesting to me because, firstly, it’s an entirely different culture altogether. Neither Christmas nor New Year’s Eve are significant holidays in Sri Lanka, so I’m excited to see what her family has planned. They take Christmas quite seriously: there are a lot of Christmas celebrations with her family and New Year’s celebrations with her friends. I’m afraid, though, that I will really miss my family when I see my friend reuniting with hers. 

It makes me sad that I’m missing out on certain important events with my family, like Christmas lunch. I’ve been doing that since I was five. I’ve been doing it for so long. That’s my Christmas. The fact that this is the first time I’m going to miss it in fifteen or sixteen years is quite sad. I know it will be tough but it’s a very nice thing to know that I also actually have a family here. The fact that I’ll be with at least one of my roommates makes me feel gezellig.”

Photo by Pola Folwarczny

Kaavya Malhotra (first-year Humanities major):

“I wasn’t expecting to go home because the winter break is too short. Instead, I am staying in Amsterdam. It’s a bit weird, because it’s a completely new place to be spending all of this time. I don’t have any specific plans yet, but I know I want to spend some time going through the city, checking out the Christmas carnivals. I think when you’re in Europe, you can’t really escape the Christmas vibe; it’s everywhere. I’m going to try and embrace it when I walk around. I’m also excited for the celebrations we have planned with my roommates. We want to get a tree together, set up some decorations, maybe even do a little secret Santa in our room.

The European Christmas experience is different from what I know from home. You don’t see it in public in India. Culturally or religiously, nothing in my family really screams Christmas. But the representation of Christmas in the media has affected me as a child, helping establish the role of the holiday in our family. You see it in films and then you want it, and then because you want it, your parents start giving you presents. It was never as legitimate as Diwali would be, though. I don’t have a plan for my Christmas here yet. I’m a little stressed because I don’t want this really pretty time of the year to be spent with me doing nothing or doing something completely alone. I’m hoping that I can figure things out in time.”

Photo by Pola Folwarczny

Hattie Krämer (third-year Social Science major):

“For me, the break is not so much about escaping AUC or the bubble, as we don’t really feel like part of the bubble. My experience might be different in that other AUC students are drawn into this whole community, and when they’re in Amsterdam, they are mainly in the dorms, the AB, and with their AUC friends. I don’t feel like that at all. For me, Amsterdam is just another place to live and AUC is where I study, but it’s nothing that dominates my life.

I’m not entirely sure yet how we’ll spend the break. We haven’t booked any tickets, but I’m probably going with my son Kaspar and my boyfriend Lesik to Germany to visit family. I was also hoping to go with my boyfriend on a small trip, just the two of us. We’re trying to get my parents to watch over Kaspar for some days; they probably miss Kaspar more than they miss us. We were thinking of going to a super random place so it would just be the two of us and we would be able to simply enjoy each other’s company.

It’s the first time that we thought about doing this. We usually get up very early in the morning, and then when we get back in the evening, everyone’s tired. When Kaspar’s finally gone to bed, we are so tired that we’re not really able to do something nice together. So, we don’t really have time apart from the holidays. I think we sometimes forget that we actually like each other; sometimes I feel like we’re just a team that works together, functioning in our positions as mother and father. But we’re also a couple and we have a relationship simply for the sake of being with each other. 

We always go to visit our family around Christmas. It’s not really like I care much about the Christmas event; it’s more that my family does and I do it with them to not disappoint them. For example, my family always gets Christmas trees, but I’m not so keen on that. I always tell them that maybe this year we can go without one, but then they still get one. I don’t really see why it’s so necessary to have a tree in your living room for a few weeks and then just trashing it.”

Pedram Dibazar (faculty member in the Humanities department):

“It’s a significant time because it’s a break and I usually need that break. But I don’t celebrate Christmas as such; for me, it’s a holiday. There’s a religious side to it that I don’t share. Where I come from in Iran, we have another New Year, so this is not even a New Year for me. Normally, when I was home, this was nothing, and we accepted that. We knew that this was the New Year in a lot of places around the world; Christmas was celebrated by the minority of Christians. Other than that, these were normal days.

I haven’t planned anything, but what I would like to do is go to Prague. This is a period when everyone goes on trips. I feel like I don’t really want to go to one of these tourist destinations, like the Canary Islands. I do miss the sun, but I also like winter when it’s calm, not windy, with some snow. I’d like to have such an experience, but I’m afraid it might not work out this year.

What I usually do during this period, which might also happen this year, is stay home with my partner. Amsterdam is a nice city for the winter break because it cools down, it is not as crowded – and much more importantly, things happen. So it’s not that on Christmas Day everything is closed. We always go watch a film, we have dinner, that sort of thing. Usually it’s a very calm experience. Lots of good wine, good food, and relaxation.”

Photo by Pola Folwarczny

Lorenzo Galeotti (faculty member in the Sciences department):

“Like most students, I’ll be going back home for the break – back to Italy to see my family and then work from there. I normally do my research during these breaks because it’s hard to keep up with everything during the semester. I guess there will be a few days around Christmas where I’ll get an actual break; still, there is always something to do, so it’s probably not going to be a proper break. 

I do feel excited to work on some things, but not all. Some things will just be bureaucratic tasks that I didn’t have time to finish during this semester. Other tasks are things I like, such as a few projects that I have to work on with some other people. The only time I can truly focus on the things I need and like to do is during the break. For me, that is research in math. 

Other than the typical Christmas things, I don’t have any particular traditions. I’m also not Catholic, but I follow the tradition because my family is. Not that I feel obliged to, but it would probably feel weird to say ‘Oh, well, I don’t believe in this’. I’m mostly just looking forward to being with my family – that, for me, is the tradition.”

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