Home for the Holidays?

Winter break. You’ve been dying to get here for weeks (if not months), and have focused your whole energy on just getting over the finals finish line and getting back home where you can sleep all morning (into the afternoon?) and not read a single bit of assigned text for days and days on end. You have arrived: break is here and it is good.

Freshman year holiday break: first snow of the year, and I cut off a foot of my hair. Make the most of the break!

At least, mostly good.

A month back home can be just as stifling and isolating as it can be restful and rejuvenating. There are all the stereotypical problems of re-assimilating into parents’ rules and the new role you occupy as a grown-up child. There is also the range of emotion associated with being back in town with your high school friends and negotiating your relationships after time and distance have changed you. If you live in the dorms at school, you are probably dying for a private bathroom and the chance to make a mess in your own bedroom. And there is the stereotypical and understandable promise of the kitchen. Home cooking, after months of cafeteria food of (perhaps worse) your own attempts at feeding yourself between classes and activities.

It’s good to be home. But it’s also strange. You can’t go back to a place and have your relationship with it be unchanged.


Allot a specific and generous amount of time for your family. Make plans with specific activities and on a committed timeframe. Being back in town can be complicated, but especially if you’re not back often this is a chance you should jump on to be with your folks. I find it’s generally easier to schedule early and be specific, not just “let’s hang out tomorrow afternoon when I’m done sleeping off my semester.” A plan makes people feel like they’re a priority, and means you can plan other things around those plans. Here are some specific thoughts:

  • Go for snacks/coffee/whatever outside of the house
  • Go hiking/swimming/skiing/whatever
  • Go to the gym together
  • Set aside time to watch a movie and talk about it
  • Ask for cooking lessons
  • Play some of those old goofy card games
  • Give or receive computer help (I was usually asking, but have recently become something of a tech guru in my own right)
  • Go away somewhere out of town overnight or even just for an afternoon.

If possible, make new memories in your hometown and with your family. Celebrate the things you love and miss about your home, but add some new associations with home. Spend time in an active way—it’s easy to have different interpretations of time at home. Maybe to you it feels like the half an hour you hung out while waiting for a friend was quality time, but to the other person that felt like you dying to leave. Make time, and make new memories.

Cards at the end of a dramatic hand of gin. This particular game was played with college friends, but the resulting card skills were used to great effect with family.

Cards at the end of a dramatic hand of gin. This particular game was played with college friends, but the resulting card skills were used to great effect with family.

And please, for the sanity and peace of everyone involved, try to put your phone down now and again. Nothing feels less like “quality time” to most parents than watching their kid interact with a cell phone.

Honestly my favorite part of several holidays home was the chance to play hours-long games of Hearts. My sister and I often had fits of the giggles and the competitive edge has only grown over the years.


I have some good friends from my hometown and my high school years. A couple of my very best friends, in fact, are the ones who have hung on through all our travels and changes over the years. But, like many others, I have also seen friendships fade over the years. Some “faded” rather quickly—it is sometimes the case that leaving for college means radical changes in who you want to hang out with. So even with those couple of good friends from back in the day, I am often lonely when I go back to Colorado.

I don’t have much advice on this one except to say that this is normal and healthy. It’s part of the growing-up process. Hang on to the people who are truly important, and don’t feel too bad about the changes in your social situation. Realize that growing apart from high school friends isn’t bad, it’s just something that happens as young people turn into adults. We change, and not everyone changes in matching ways.


Spend time with your community at home. Whether that’s church, neighbors, the kids you used to babysit, your parents’ college friends…whatever. If you get the chance, get re-established with those old family friends. It might be that a bit of difference you get from leaving town and coming back makes you appreciate people in a whole new light. You might have gone through most of your life not entirely knowing what people were involved with, so much as they are the people you spent every 4th of July sharing a BBQ meal. Find out who you know. Own a gathering space as a grown-up now.

This is, as with much of my advice, both a good idea for everyone’s happiness and a strategic opportunity. The adults who watched you grow up are likely to want to know you now that you’re grown up. They want you to succeed. They probably have advice and insight and connections they might be able to offer you. They are also a source of interesting talks over coffee in a quiet moment.

And keep in touch with those younger folks in your life. Establish that you are still part of their lives and their community. Answer their questions and remind yourself what it was like to be that age and be curious about your future. You probably have all kinds of new future-focused questions now, but you’ve made it to a whole new stage of life. Talk about it. Share what you’re thinking and what you’re excited about. Be with people who aren’t your own age. (Check out my previous blog on the importance of an off-campus community HERE)


Keep in touch, but not too much. For crying out loud (as my Minnesotan grandmother would say), you won’t be gone that long.


Beyond sleeping, you should try to do a few things for yourself over break. Those can be anything from practical to purely fun. Try to make a few new memories and have some stories to take back to college with you at the end of break. Do something new. If you’re in productivity withdrawals (as sometimes happens to me—I’m not all that great at the whole “taking a break” thing), then create a project for yourself.

Some suggestions:

  • Create a pile of ‘to be read’ books. Don’t hold yourself accountable.
  • Start some kind of craft project
  • Try to learn a new skill of some kind
  • Organize all your computer files into a usable (and traceable) database
  • Practice cooking recipes that will remind you of home
  • Research study abroad locations that will take you far, far away from here
  • Practice a language
  • Do some online learning (two platforms I like: Khan Academy and Gibbon)
  • Learn an instrument. Or start, anyway
  • Research opportunities on your campus
  • Get recommendations for some new music
  • Make a pile of “to be watched” movies. Include friends and family

I am a strong advocate both of rest and of unpressured activity. As previously mentioned in my manic lists blog post, I do not believe that putting something on a list of ideas means you have to commit to getting it done. Bringing home 14 books from the library for a three-week break is exciting and inspiring, not some kind of obligation. Deciding you want to use your winter break to tidy your computer’s desk top and also learn to code is an admirable pairing and worth a start, regardless of how well you progress.


I find that coming home for the holidays often has the effect of mood swings between relaxation and loneliness, activity and stressed over-commitment. I can only assume that this is normal for me. My best advice is to make room in your life for all the various kinds of energy you will probably experience during the break. Keep yourself busy and let yourself chill out. See the people who are important to you. Learn something or do something worth talking about at school. Get organized. Get rested.

And enjoy the break!


What do you do over the holidays? Do you make manic “free time” lists? What’s in your holiday book pile? Please leave any and all holiday break-related comments and activity lists in the comments section here: