This time in the semester is always a delicate balance for me. First of all, Thanksgiving break is such a tease. You’re home just long enough to get reacquainted with your couch, TV channels and home cooking, and to begin to ask yourself things like, “Why did I ever leave this place?” and “Graduating is for squares, am I right?”
You head back to campus reluctantly, torn from the cozy warmth of home and thrust into the ugly, sordid business of final exams. I weep silently to myself every year and bemoan the fact that I didn’t go to a college on the trimester or quarter system. Those lucky people get a six-week break from Thanksgiving to New Years. It just isn’t fair. (Granted, I sing to a different tune when May rolls around, and they’re staring down another solid month of coursework.)
If readjusting to campus life and starting to mentally (read: emotionally) prepare oneself for the marathon of finals isn’t bad enough, I find that the end of the fall semester is further complicated by the fact that outside of the confines of academia, it is the holidays. The rest of the world is gearing up for cheeriness and general merriment, while I am trying to remember which areas of Lau make me the least anxious. It’s cruel, really.
I remember being particularly concerned about this my freshman year. I wasn’t due to fly home until late in the exam period, and I worried that I’d have to cram all of my Christmas festivities into the five days or so I’d have at home before the actual holiday. This stemmed from a broader belief I carried into college: That things like holidays, or even the changing of the seasons, would be somehow lessened because I was away from home. I figured that celebrating things at school would always feel slightly foreign and second-rate when compared to home.
But my first Christmas season at Georgetown quickly changed my mind. I owe a large part of this to my one of my best friends and now-housemate, Fiona. Fiona hadn’t even flown home to Washington for Thanksgiving that year, but not even that could sully the anticipation of Christmas for her. Fiona lived next door to me in Darnall and that December, she created a huge Advent calendar on the wall between our dorm rooms. She dubbed it Platform 326 ¾, and it was a masterpiece. There were 25 pockets — one for each day leading up to Christmas — crafted out of note cards and scotch tape, holding Hershey’s chocolate kisses and a personalized note for the person who had been assigned that day (she assigned dates to all of the people on our floor). It was incredibly creative, heartwarming and just generally awesome.
It sounds simple, but Fiona taught me that Christmas is not tethered to a location, or even to relatives. She also made me watch “Love Actually” for the first, so I owe her for that transformative experience as well. She was the harbinger of holiday cheer for me that Christmas, and I’ll never forget it.
Three years later, I have learned that Fiona was really onto something. Her Advent calendar project was her way of making a new tradition for us. When you’re away from home, separated from the larger context of hometown and family, it’s important to reclaim things that are important to you on your own terms. For me, rituals are the stuff of friendship, and I have had so much fun making up new ways of celebrating the holidays with my college friends. We’ve attended the tree lighting in DahlgrenQuadrangle together annually, participated in endless viewings of our favorite Christmas , made gingerbread men, cut out snowflakes, hung up lights and belted “All I Want for Christmas is You” more times than I care to count.
This year, my roommates decorated a small (but very real) tree in our living room and have plans to order Christmas cards to send out to family and friends. I know that we’re not unique in this respect, because in my time at Georgetown I’ve witnessed this campus come alive around the holidays in so many remarkable ways.
I know that it’s finals season and easy to be miserable, but I also know that few things make me feel at home as much as sitting around eating dinner (read: eggnog cupcakes) with my roommates (read: family). Having these people in my life is all I could ever want for Christmas.
Margaret Delaney is a senior in the College and a former member of The Hoya’s Board of Directors. This is the final appearance of I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE, which has run for four semesters.