Merry Christmas, me

Most of us have fond memories of holiday gatherings from when we were kids. From trademark family recipes and unique traditions, to those relatives who always ask you the same questions, knowing what to expect when the holidays come around is comforting. If you’re a killjoy, party-phobe like me, you probably fondly remember hiding in your aunt’s bedroom watching A&E’s Christmas marathon of Horatio Hornblower. No? That’s fine.

No matter what you loved about the holidays growing up, there’s no denying that spending them away from your parents can be just plain weird.

For many students, college is the first time that they face the prospect of spending Thanksgiving or Christmas without loved ones. If your family is from out of state, travel is usually expensive and inconvenient, and it might not be possible. Not every student feels the same way about having nothing to do for the holidays, but however you feel, it’s almost a rite of passage. You’re growing up, getting out in the world and living your own life—not every road leads back to Grandma’s dining room at exactly the right time.

So what can you do? The obvious solution is that you tag along to a friend’s home. My first year of college, I spent Thanksgiving in Washington with a friend and her parents, and I ended up meeting lots of new people and seeing Seattle for the first time. It turned out to be one of my most memorable Thanksgivings ever. I’ve had classmates I didn’t even know that well who invited me to their homes when they found out that I had no plans for the holidays. People in Portland are effortlessly communal and very welcoming.

But maybe the idea of mingling with somebody else’s family sounds way more uncomfortable than being on your own. Or maybe you’re new to Portland State and don’t feel close enough to anyone to drop hints like that just yet. Both are totally understandable.

In that case, what’s so bad about being on your own? I might be biased because I’m a natural loner and not at all sentimental, but I think spending a holiday by yourself can be lots of fun. There are some great movie releases on Thanksgiving and Christmas. You can cook whatever you want. You could eat a whole pie and nobody will care. Last year, I discovered that Powell’s stays open on Thanksgiving Day and got a head start on my Christmas shopping, buying Portland souvenirs for my family in California.

Put things in perspective. If you’re away from home, you probably miss your family all the time, right? That doesn’t necessarily change because it’s Dec. 25. Declaring that holidays are arbitrary excuses to sell Hallmark cards might not necessarily be your bag, but remembering that the day only has as much meaning as you assign to it probably should be. The feelings that Christmas is meant to symbolize should be present all year long.

If you’re really a Christmas junkie, think about volunteering. Local soup kitchens and children’s hospitals always need extra help around the holidays, and connecting with less fortunate people who might also be away from their loved ones will really make you feel like you did something worthwhile this season. Drawing and coloring with terminally ill kids this Christmas sounds like something that will stick with you forever. Taking a year off from pot roast and charades is going to help shape the person you are.

Then get on the phone and tell your parents all about your day. Thank them for the gifts that they took the time to mail, and let them pass the phone around to all your relatives. You’ll be back in the fold soon enough. Right now, you’re having an adventure.