With COVID-19 looming large and restrictions continuing to obstruct both local and global travel, Oxford is much different from the ghost town it tends to be during Christmas. Record numbers of students have chosen to stay back, making for a quite out-of-the-ordinary vacation experience. Given this, we asked two students to share what they’ve been doing, what their thoughts are going into the vacation and what they think the next few weeks will be like.
Bailey Finch-Robson, Magdalen College
I’ve been rewatching the Harry Potter films, particularly the scenes where the gang stay in Hogwarts over Christmas, in an attempt to indulge my main character complex by pretending that I’m just like Harry; living in what’s not unlike an old castle, walking through the cloisters, reflecting on how empty the place feels with everyone having gone home. Of course, I’m missing out on the snow-covered trips to Hogsmeade, the Yule Ball, the life-threatening heroics, and the lack of a pandemic, so it’s not quite the same. But it’s close enough.
I’m lucky to have some very good friends also staying over the vacation so I’m not totally isolated, and I love spending time with them, but it still doesn’t feel quite right being in Oxford without the normal chaos of term time. This can also be a blessing, though. Being able to wander the grounds of Magdalen in peace when I need to clear my head without running into anyone else and having to stop for a quick chat, and being able to explore the city without looming deadlines is a welcome change of pace.
I’ll be spending Christmas Day in Manchester with my brothers, one of whom I haven’t seen since last Christmas (because of the apocalypse and everything), but other than that the ‘vacation’ is hardly going to be that. My friend was told, kind of harshly, by her tutor that “it’s called a vacation because you vacate your room, not because you take a break”. And I haven’t even vacated my room. My plans are simply to spend my time catching up on missed Michaelmas work and prepare for Hilary work. But at least I’ll get to do it in the Bodleian libraries, which are now very easy to find booking slots for, and think about how cool I am as I live the dark academia aesthetic fantasy.
Jade Calder, St. Peter’s College
Perhaps the restrictions of Michaelmas term have meant that the transition to the vacation won’t seem as stark as they usually do. Instead of going from one extreme of frenetic socialisation to a chasm of loneliness as usually happens at the start of every vacation, there is instead a feeling of things petering out naturally. In fact, although many of my friends have gone back home, I am relishing the opportunity to explore the city without having the stresses of term looming over me; I suppose I’m trying to make up for a lost Trinity term by going on winter strolls. I’m also getting involved with volunteering opportunities in Oxford to make my time here feel more worthwhile. At times like these, the chance for calm and relaxation can feel like a luxury.
This is my first Christmas away from home, and I do want to make the best of the situation. Instead of dwelling on the distance between myself and my loved ones, I have the time to focus on ‘self care’ as the youth say (I guess I’ll start by working out what on earth that actually means). In particular, I’m always wary of seasonal affective disorder getting to me as the nights are longer and the weather is gloomier, so the winter vac is something I have to brace myself for anyway. All in all, I’ll be honest in saying that I’m not particularly looking forward to the next few weeks, but I’ll cherish the few silver linings I can find.