[dropcap]I[/dropcap] find myself happiest around Christmas. Perhaps it’s because of the snow, which, despite the bitter wind, falls like a blanket around my shoulders and pinches my cheeks when I walk outside.

Or maybe it’s because I feel closest to my parents around Christmas. My parents divorced when I was young, but they maintained a close enough relationship for us to spend Christmas Day together each year. Since I was eight, at around 10:00 am on Christmas morning, my mom and I would pack her car with boxes and bags of gifts and make the trek to my father’s house. It’s not that far of a drive — six minutes, tops — but with the wicked weather that Winnipeg brings, the drive seems to get longer as I grow older.

It’s strange, going from the little girl who watched her parents add Bailey’s Irish Cream to their coffee on Christmas to the young adult who adds some herself. As I age, I find myself increasingly excited to eat the feast of a breakfast my dad prepares on Christmas morning, rather than sitting down and opening the presents. I think it’s because the best conversations I’ve had with my parents happened at the table; it’s at the old wooden table that I’ve learned the most from them.

For me, Christmas is a time of learning, laughing, and most importantly, indulging myself a little and enjoying some Irish Cream.

— Ava Truthwaite


[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he break from school is a time when I travel to the US to visit my extended family. There’s something magical about packing up and leaving. The road trip is always one of the best parts of the break as we get to drive through different cities and states.

The break also allows me to spend time with my nieces and nephews. I have time to bake brownies or muffins with them, and if we’re lucky and there’s snow outside, it’s the perfect time to make snowmen and snow angels. I’ve realized that the colder it is, the better the hot chocolate tastes. During the break, I can transition from a stressed-out aunt to a semi-cool one. It is also a time when I can feel nostalgic for the late ’90s while watching Home Alone marathons with my family.

Like many other students, over the holidays, I can finally catch my breath. It’s the only time that we are truly free from school responsibilities. This provides an opportunity for me to focus on things that I would otherwise not have time for, including leisure reading, baking, crocheting, or just catching up on my TV shows. Since I am unable to see old friends during the school year, the break also gives me time to finally catch up with them.

During this time, I self-reflect, think about the past year, and set goals for the upcoming year. After living every day with a strict schedule, it is relaxing to not have to follow a routine for a while. I can clear my head, relax, and prepare for the upcoming semester.

— Aisha Malik


[dropcap]D[/dropcap]uring Christmas time, my family home, a 1930s mock Art Deco in South West London, smells glorious. The intermingling of pine and shortbread wafts past the fairy lights dotted around the ground floor. Among these storybook-esque delights, the house itself is incredibly cold. Every year, on October 15, my mum — she makes the rules — allows us to turn on the heating. It is usually slightly nippy by this point, and by mid-November we are all wearing multiple sweaters, socks and scarves.

Despite having grown up in a freezing house, my dad made winter as magical as he could for me and my younger sister. He loves Christmas with every inch of his being. He’s enthralled by it all: the tree, the turkey, the toys — you name it, and he will have planned how to execute it perfectly. My mum, on the other hand, tends to be slightly more British about the holiday season. She often jokes that, if she hadn’t married a Canadian, she would still be having daal and roti as her Christmas dinner.

Personally, I fall between them both: I find Christmas Day to be underwhelming, but I completely adore the build-up. This time last year, I was volunteering in the outskirts of Delhi. It was 20 degrees, vibrant, and colourful; I was exploring a new city and doing something stimulating every day, yet I still craved our familial Christmas routines.

This year is no different, except the weather is considerably cooler, of course. For me, the winter break is synonymous with my dad, and I am incredibly excited to see him at Heathrow Airport on December 20. Until then, I’ll be procrastinating in my warm room with a nice cup of tea.

— Kashi Syal


[dropcap]Y[/dropcap]ear after year, my family doesn’t really celebrate anything in December except my birthday — and Boxing Day if my mother wants to stock up on gifts for my relatives back home. I come from a Muslim family and country, and since Muslim celebrations are based on the lunar calendar and change dates every year, my family and I never learned to celebrate December with the same zeal as people in North America. By the time we immigrated to Canada, we were too set in our ways.

Nevertheless, the holiday season still holds a special place in my heart. Apart from finally celebrating my birthday after waiting all year, the December holidays are a chance for me to relax after a stressful semester and, best of all, reunite with my friends, many of whom I have not seen since last December.

If you have friends who go to different schools — or even friends who go to the same school — making plans that coordinate with everyone’s schedule can be harder than making ‘fetch’ happen. Since few of us have exams or midterms to study for during winter break, nothing — not my empty wallet, not the threat of hypothermia, and certainly not measly excuses like ‘I’m busy’ — can stop me from meeting my friends.

Over the break, as I sit laughing alongside people who willingly put up with me and my quirks, complain about my professors, and lament my poor GPA, it hits me that although I may not celebrate Christmas, I still make merry.

— Zeahaa Rehman


[dropcap]H[/dropcap]oliday season is the only time when my mind relaxes completely. It’s a strange in-between of school being over and the new year beginning. No one is in a hurry to ask you for anything.

My family has gone to the cottage for Christmas every year since I can remember. Driving to the cottage has become a sort of meditation: I download podcasts and pack my favourite pillow. We drive some, then we hit Barrie. The air is clearer, and the stress melts away like ice cream on a hot day.

Christmas Day? It’s my favourite. Nat King Cole is crooning in the background. A fire is crackling — it feels as though it may or may not burn my feet. My stomach is full of Christmas brunch, also of laughter, Christmas cookies, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, turkey, and stuffing. I am smiling. Partly because any diet has been destroyed until January 1, and partly because I am with my favourite people in the world: my family. Cheesy holiday movies are on the television. Despite them being the same ones that played the year before, every year they’re new to me.

Advent has always been special to me. Before my family escapes to our cottage oasis, we go to church. We sing carols and listen to sermons. For the first time in months, I don’t feel like I have something else to do. My spirit is renewed. For me, Christmas is about reflection and hope, it is about spiritual awakening and relaxation. It is about getting drunk with sleep because I finally feel so peaceful. It is about catching up on those books I kept saying I would read. It is about the taste of apple cider and long walks in the woods. It is about talking to God and saying thank you for getting me through this year — thank you for making me a little bit better.

— Gabrielle Warren


[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s a student in my fourth and final year at U of T, the one thing that hasn’t changed is the excitement I feel when the holiday break approaches. Yes, there’s that sense of ‘finally, I get a break from school,’ but I also get excited about the prospect of going home and seeing my family. My parents live in Turkey, where I grew up.

For me, going home means re-grounding myself. The stress of the school year and any worries I have about my future seem to disappear the minute I get on the plane. It isn’t easy living away from my family. I feel extremely alone sometimes, and it feels as though I have grown up without them. The holidays give me a chance to ease my anxieties — and probably theirs as well — about if we did the right thing by sending me here for school.

The break is first and foremost an opportunity to spend time with my family, but it’s also an opportunity to reflect on how much I have grown as a person. Going back home every six months allows me to approach things differently and appreciate the people around me. I realize how fleeting time can be, and I understand that everything happens for a reason. It’s the ideal time to re-evaluate your priorities and set new goals. Ultimately, the break is a rollercoaster: you find yourself interacting with many people throughout your time at home, but if you take the opportunity to have some time to yourself, you reap the benefits.

I see the holidays as an opportunity to return to school recharged and optimistic, while still granting myself time to spend with the people I love. This in turn helps me appreciate the people I have in my second home: Toronto.

— Sila Naz Elgin


[dropcap]L[/dropcap]etting up my family’s Christmas tree has been my tradition for the past three years. This labourious task involves hauling plastic tree pieces stored in two giant cardboard boxes, a precarious cylindrical tub of baubles from Martha Stewart’s holiday collection, and flaking ropes of tinsel up from the depths of my basement. I spend a whole Saturday dancing around my living room listening to holiday albums while I stack tree segments together, marveling at their relative sturdiness given their nine-year lifespan.

After my family immigrated to Canada, there was no continuity in my winter breaks. One year we could be embarking on a 16-hour flight to Taiwan; the next we could be driving to New York City and staying in an Airbnb in our old Manhattan neighbourhood. I have never maintained meaningful traditions during the holidays, mostly due to the secular nature of my upbringing.

However, immigrating to North America at a young age makes you susceptible to the elusive ‘holiday spirit.’ I was jealous of raucous Christmas dinners, the pure belief in Santa my elementary school classmates possessed, and the overflow of presents everyone seemed to receive. The closest I came to a holiday tradition was the recurring desire to travel away from Canada because my best winter memories have always taken place elsewhere. Hearing saxophones playing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” down Manhattan streets or having the luxury of returning to fifth grade two weeks late in January after an extended trip were the highlights of my holiday breaks.

In recent years, I have tried to create my own tradition through decorating my family’s battered Christmas tree. Despite my determination to keep the remnants of Christmas alive in my household, I still associate the holidays with a sense of departure — away from schoolwork, replaced by the thrill of distance from the familiar. This December, I will not be putting up a Christmas tree. First year is a time for first traditions.

— Georgia Lin


[dropcap]O[/dropcap]nce you reach the point when ‘coming home from school’ no longer means getting on the bus, subway, or bike to make it home for dinner, it’s a big change. Leaving home for school in my first year of university meant a three-hour bus ride from Bristol to London, followed by eight hours of intercontinental flying, broken up by a not-so-brief layover in Iceland. It goes without saying that this was not a frequently made trip. To the large number of international students at U of T, I’m sure this is a familiar story. Living far away from home for the bulk of the year changes what it means to come home. It might even change what ‘home’ means, especially around the holidays.

I needed home when the winter break came around last year. My own country, and the people I had left behind, weren’t just the setting and characters of a bygone childhood. Coming home was a recognition of the fact that these things were as essential to me as the ambitions that had taken me away from them. One of the reasons we go away, I realized, is to come back home.

Winter break was a refresh, in every sense of the word. Last December, I saw the world I’d left behind only a few months earlier — somewhat comforting yet somewhat alien, I saw the changes that had occurred in me in such a short period and I saw a glimpse of how my life would take shape over the course of my university career. Sleeping in your own bed, enjoying that smell your house gives off that you didn’t even notice when you lived there, walking down the same streets as a different person — it gives perspective, it recharges, and it lets you stop and think for a little while about where everything is going for you.

As a Canadian, you don’t realize how nice of a feeling it can be to have air so cold it hurts your face and stings your lungs. Coming home might just be the first time I really stopped to inhale.

— Ronan Mallovy


[dropcap]B[/dropcap]ecause I grew up as a third-culture kid, my friends and family live all over the world, so I look forward to winter break because it means that I get to go home. It’s a chance to reconnect with family and friends and spend time with some of the people who mean the most to me. I also don’t have to worry about cooking for a few weeks and I get to enjoy my mom’s food!

Luckily, because I get to fly back to Cairo or Abu Dhabi where it’s significantly warmer, winter break is also a break from the cold temperatures of Toronto at this time of year. I get to spend time outside — and that’s always refreshing! I also explore the new places that have popped up in either Cairo or Abu Dhabi since the last time I visited, so the break is particularly exciting because I get to explore and create new experiences.

However, the winter break also means long flights, layovers, jet lag, and spending a lot of time in airports. Flying for 12 to 14 hours can be a little much, but it does give me time to catch up on leisurely reading that I neglected during exam season. The six to nine-hour time difference means jet lag is inevitable, but it’s somewhat manageable if I sleep at the right times during my trip.

Winter break is also a time to reflect on the previous semester and prepare for the next one. It’s a much-needed break after a long semester and a stressful exam season because it’s a rare time where I have little responsibilities, so I can think about what I did well the previous semester and what I can improve on for the next. Because I have more free time, I can catch up on reading, writing, and movies or shows in addition to spending more time learning French.

— Farida Abdelmeguied