Why College Will Always Make You Feel Displaced During The Holidays

Studio Firma

This Easter, I didn't receive a basket, participate in an egg hunt or pose for a family photo. Instead, I spent the weekend in bed with a fever, skipped church and went to lunch in heels that will never see the light of day again. It was different, but it wasn't a new experience.

This year, I've spent Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, two of my siblings' birthdays, my parents' birthdays and Mother's Day in my dorm room. Coffee in hand, streamers imaginary, half upset and half overrun with exhaustion. Moving halfway across the country for college changed my life in more ways than one. Now, such holidays are spent in my new “home,” far from my family.

The contrast between holidays with family and holidays alone is striking. The day seems unanchored and not fully realized. It's emptier, somehow, deprived of the things that make it worth celebrating.

Christmas is the strangest. It's the one holiday I do spend with my family, and its tone has changed so much from years past. I miss my school, and I can't get used to a curfew. I love having coffee with my mom in the morning, but I'll wake up in my old bed every morning and wonder where I am.

This has caused me to radically re-evaluate how I celebrate holidays. On a traditional basis, holidays are viewed as family-centered affairs. But, celebrating them solo brings a new perspective to each day.

The obvious? It's lonelier. The not-so-obvious? Some holidays become better than others.

There's no longer an even playing field in the holiday world. Christmas is undeniably the best by default because it's the only one I spend with my family.

But, there are some things about lonely holidays that work out. There are no more awkward family gatherings or large lunches around heated political disputes. There's no agonizing over outfits or problems with picky eaters. There's no obligation to wake up early, clear the table after a meal or even put on real pants. And if you're lucky, there are friends who care enough to drag you to lunch. With them, you can start new traditions.

It's still strange, though. There's an undeniable sense of being cheated. I felt like I had missed a train I didn't even know I needed to board. Months ago, I had opportunities to celebrate with the best people in my life, and now I do not. While this is discouraging, to say the least, it reminds me to be more grateful for the little moments in life right now.

And college is all about those little moments. Missing out on holidays has made me realize I don't want to miss out on other things, like my college experience. In the crush of research and homework and deadlines, it's tempting to hunker down and go into survival mode. But, crazed library all-nighters and shaky-handed espresso shots are not memories that will transcend time. They're a little bit of a desperation, and a lot of a bad idea.

Instead, I try to look for the moments that make daily life seem brighter. I turn these into memories, instead, and remember them well. Because, just like holidays, they can be returned to again and again, but they cannot be repeated.

College has changed my perception of holidays, and despite my best efforts, I haven't found a way to change it back. For now, I celebrate when I can, and forget when I cannot. I'm grateful for all the holidays I got to spend with my family. And I keep my chin up, always looking forward to the holidays I spend surrounded by their love.