The Thanksgiving break is over, and now students from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon and everywhere in between are buckling down for final exams. The holidays are also coming up, and they provide a whole bunch of programming initiative ideas that can all help eliminate some stress in this tough part of the year.
Coming up with programming ideas for Christmas and New Years is generally pretty easy to do, but there are a number of other holidays in the Winter that take a little bit more creativity to plan for. Each culture has its own way of celebrating each holiday, and diversifying your programs to include other than traditional holidays is a very cool and fun thing to do.
St. Nicholas Day
The first holiday is St. Nicholas’s day, December 6. This is the feast day of old St. Nicholas, the 4th century Turkish bishop that led to the tradition of Santa Claus. St. Nicholas Day is a big holiday in the countries where he is a patron saint, such as Germany, Austria, or Russia.
In some parts of Germany, Children line up their shoes on the eve of St. Nicholas day, and Weihnachtsman (Father Christmas) (a combination of St. Nicholas, his assistant and tradition) drops off gifts for the children while they sleep. These gifts traditionally include things like candies and fruit.
Programming Initiative idea for St. Nicholas Day:
Place candy and a small card, explaining the holiday in the mailbox of the residents. If you are feeling really into the Weihnachtsman Spirit, ask your residents to place a shoe in the hallway the night before in order to get a present!
St. Nicholas day falls in what is usually one of the last weeks of classes for the fall semester, so it would also be a good time to provide some study aids to students, like pencils or erasers for those annoying Scantron tests.
The Winter Solstice
The Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, is a holiday celebrated by many non-Judeo-Christian groups. In ancient times, getting through the winter was pretty tough, but the solstice was a sign that the spring was on its way and the days would grow longer after the solstice. Great feasts would be held celebrating the event, and the timing of the Solstice (December 21) fits in great with the end of finals and the beginning of the vacation.
Some ideas for programming for the Solstice:
• Get together with some residents and go outside and look at the stars and reflect on the coming of the spring and graduation, or the summer to come, and then when you get back inside, serve hot chocolate and warm cookies.
• Have an arts and crafts night to create Yule Logs out of construction paper. Yule logs are part of the Pagan and Christian tradition, and in some cultures when the Yule log was placed in the fireplace, families would tell ghost stories and drink cider while looking at the log. Burning logs in most student lounges is a bad plan, but you can hang them up just the same.
• Another cool point about Solstice is that the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere is also the Summer Solstice in the southern hemisphere. It is a great time of year to hold a tropical night with Caribbean music and South American Music while eating tropical foods and mingling with residents before they head off for winter break.
Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday, created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, to celebrate the oneness and goodness of life without ties to any religion. Its focus is the seven principles (Nguzo Saba): Unity (Umoja), Self-Determination (Kujichagulia), Collective Responsibility (Ujima), Cooperative Economics (Ujaama), Purpose (Nia), Creativity (Kuumba), and Faith (Imani).
Kwanzaa is celebrated on the seven days following Christmas, so since most residents are on vacation during this time, perhaps you can celebrate it earlier.
Kwanzaa Programming Ideas:
• Try to bring in a speaker to talk about the meanings of the holiday.
• Hold a celebration of Kwanzaa featuring reflection stations on each of the principles and ask students to write up there ideas or reflections on each of the principles on butcher paper and then hang up the posters in the hallway for all to see. This is also a good stress reliever around finals, as they can also color in candles and cultural icons. There are a lot of good sites on the web featuring ideas on icons.
• Focus on one of the principles before break, such as Purpose, and hold a roundtable discussion about our purpose as people.
Hanukkah, the festival of lights, usually occurs in December, and the date changes each year. It begins at sundown. Hanukkah is the celebration of the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BC. The Maccabees were returning victorious from a revolt against the Syrians and sought to rededicate the Temple (Hanukkah means dedication in Hebrew.) The Maccabees looked for some clean oil to burn in the temple, and found only enough to burn for one night, but it worked for eight nights until they could get some more, and thus Hanukkah was born.
Now, in many Jewish families, Hanukkah is a nightly celebration for 8 nights. The families gather at the Menorah for chanting blessings and singing songs and exchanging of gifts. Each night the family lights one more candle to celebrate another day of freedom.
Hanukkah Programming Ideas:
• Build Menorahs out of paper and add a paper “flame” each night, a yellow piece of paper.
• Have a representative from your campus Jewish group, if you have one, or from a local Jewish community group come and tell stories of Hanukkah and the meanings of it to your residents. Join them for a dinner on a night preceding the holiday and have them tell the legends of the dreidel or the songs.
• Build Dreidels, these are the coolest Hanukkah toy ever. Dreidels are basically tops with letters on the side for scoring the game: Nicht (No) – No win, no lose, Gut (Good) – Win all, Halb (Half) – Win Half, and Schlecht (Bad) – Lose all.
This game can be played for cookies, and the Dreidels can be made out of clay or even cardboard with a little creativity.
• For all of these activities, food should be served, traditional Hanukkah foods include Latkes (potato pancakes) and Sufganiyot, (Doughnuts.)
Finally, the neatest holiday of the season is Festivus. You may never have heard of it, because you can’t find Festivus cards at the store or see Festivus specials on TV, but don’t worry. Festivus is the combination of all of the winter holidays into one big celebration. It is celebrated on the 23rd and is a celebration of all of the silliness of the holidays. Festivus was created by Frank Costanza on Seinfeld, and it actually seems to be a valid holiday for many families.
On that night, all of the family members gather around the table for an “Ailing of Grievances,” about all of the problems of the past year with the other family members.
For decorations, there is one, a long skinny metal pole. Tinsel and ornaments can be distracting, according to Frank Costanza.
Programming for Festivus is pretty easy:
• Have an Ailing of Grievances with your residents about being in college, about the roughness of classes, and conclude with a midnight scream and lead the residents outside to scream as loud as they can at midnight. This can be done a week before Festivus if it works better for you! A week before would be the heart of finals for most schools.
• Build Mini Festivus Trees out of cardboard toilet paper rolls or paper towel rolls and paint them silver. These are great things for residents to take home for the holidays. Their parents will wonder what their children are actually doing at school other than painting silver tubes.
• Watch the Festivus Seinfeld Episode if you can find it on video, it is truly one of the best holiday specials ever created!
Bringing All the Holidays Together
A way to bring all of the holidays together is with a Holiday Door Decoration Contest. Have residents decorate their doors for whatever holiday they choose and then have them vote on the winner for some sort of prize, such as a trip to the southern hemisphere, or more feasibly a couple of pints of Ben and Jerry’s new flavor, Festivus. If you decide to do a door decorating contest, talk to your supervisor and other university resources first to discuss how you can implement this program safely and avoid fire safety problems.
Whichever holiday or holidays you celebrate, may you enjoy yourself, be safe, and have a Happy New Year!
Submitted by Brian Eagle, formerly an RA at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.