How our holiday experience changes once we enter college

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A 3-foot tree sits on the ledge at the head of her living room. The Apartment Village residence lights up with a faint glow from the strand of white wrapped around the tree. A “Merry Christmas” banner dangles above the window.

Despite Shannon Rostin’s joke about college student-friendly decor grabbing a tree branch from campus and propping it up against the wall she and her roommates keep the spirit alive with minimalistic decor as “The Grinch” plays in the background.

Rostin, a junior strategic communication major, faces her faux-pine friend as she finishes a final portfolio for a design principles course. She agrees with me that the holiday season as a college student is the most stressful time of the year.

“I definitely cry a lot more than I used to,” Rostin joked. “I remember one time in elementary school when my only project was to create a Polar Express train. And I think right now I’d much rather be doing that than what I’m doing right now.”

We try to keep that childlike spirit alive some of us sporting the same giddy expressions as we listen to “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and turn on 25 Days of Christmas.

But the reality is, we hardly have time for one day of Christmas, let alone 25. And it is near impossible to listen to any song we know too well or with any lyrics at all as we cram for tests and scramble to finish last minute assignments.

Many of us still try, though. As children, holidays were about the movies or the gifts under the tree or homemade latkes or the family dinners. Now, some of us have started playing “jingle shots” and other alcohol-themed games.

College students break out the wine and host “Friendsmas”something Rostin has done since her high school graduation.

“With my friends from home we do ‘Friendsmas’ every year, which we started after graduation,” she said. “My apartment is hosting ‘Friendsmas’ this year. So, it’s cool you kind of get to pick who you celebrate the holidays with.”

It’s true we get to create our own traditions. For years, parents dragged some of us to family functions where distant relatives asked, “Have you gotten taller?” or “Where is [insert name of significant other I broke up with eight months ago]?” Now, we plan “Merry Friendsgiving” with our college roommates, exchanging gifts that symbolize inside jokes and eating Thanksgiving-themed food from cans.

As “real adults,” college students finally have the chance to create their own traditions. But sometimes, we are even accidentally pushed out of family traditions.

Holiday decor begins and ends without you. Mom or Dad already put up the tree and hung your personalized ornaments, or you missed out on holding the shamash. The shrubs are lit when you pull into the driveway at the start of winter break.

You join the extended family for dinner the night after, your siblings spout jokes you haven’t been there to hear. Your parents join in, because they somehow are now more familiar with your siblings than you are.

Table conversations change. Everyone wants to ask how college classes are going, what you are majoring in again and what you think you want to do after graduation.

“Pretty good. I’m actually double majoring in this and that. I’m really looking into doing this thing that’s going to make a lot of money,” you say.

But you are really thinking, “Pretty good. I’m actually double majoring in this and that, but I just declared that; so, I’m not sure if I’m going to graduate on time. I have no idea what I’m doing, Great Aunt Susan, I just know whatever it is probably won’t be able to pay off all my student loans.”

We miss the days when relatives would pass us off as silly kids, asking us what toy we want this holiday.

We hardly remember what it felt like to want something so impractical as a toy.

“I need shampoo and conditioner, and maybe some body wash,” I tell my grandma. “A gas card would be nice as well.”

And now as we start new traditions with our college friends we begin to ask what gifts they want, realizing our budgets allow for merely a pack of gum and a Dr. Pepper. Some of our parents deserve tickets to an island retreat, carried in on the back of a soft, plush puppy, but you can barely afford an off-brand candle.

“When you’re little and you make your parents a homemade gift, they think it’s cute,” Rostin said. “But when you’re 20 and making them a snowman with your school picture in it, not so much.”

While some parents may appreciate a sentimental throwback, it almost feels as if we just got to a point where gift giving is something we want to do for those we love, though we find ourselves without money to do so.

So, over break we work. We pick up extra shifts and try to work Black Friday for that time-and-a-half pay. And sometimes this turns into applying for break stay. You don’t always get to go home.

Doug Howell, associate director of residence life, said the majority of students stay on campus for “Butler-related” reasons. These include students involved in athletics, international students who cannot travel home or those involved in a service project.

Senior psychology and criminology double major Ariana Hays plans to work the majority of winter break. While her family resides in Illinois, she will stay in Indianapolis to work her two jobs.

“I’ll have to cram in as much time with my family during my less than nine days home,” Hays said, “and hopefully not spend the rest of my break lonely with everyone gone.”

Whatever we choose to do with our breaks whatever way we choose to celebrate the holidays I believe none of us are alone over break. We’re all feeling similar anxieties and adjusting to holiday newness as we further delve into our college careers.

Final exams, cheap gifts, tight budgets, exiled table conversations, extra work despite all these seemingly negative attributes, college students have too many holiday-themed, alcohol-punned games, and “college family” traditions to deck any less halls this season… even if it is merely those of Jordan Hall as you walk to your last exam.