Spending Christmas in Durham as an international student

Tia van Loggerenberg

I’ve always thought Christmas is a magical time of year. There are sparkly lights and decorations everywhere, the smell of cinnamon, ginger, chocolate and pine needles everywhere, and the opportunity to feast on litres of hot chocolate and so many different Christmassy foods and desserts. Honestly, it’s probably my favourite time of year. Christmas also comes with lots of traditions, and an emphasis on being with family, so when those things suddenly change, it can take a bit of getting used
to. Today I’m going to chat about what it’s like spending Christmas in Durham as an international student because even though it might be different, that doesn’t mean it has to be any less special.

Christmas in England

Last year I spent Christmas in England, I decided it was an opportunity to really take notice of and enjoy all the Christmas experiences England has to offer. First off, it felt really great to experience Christmas in a place where it’s winter. Growing up in South Africa, we have Christmas in summer, so even though it wasn’t a white Christmas, it was pretty great having an excuse to stay in my Christmas jumpers all day and drink hot chocolate by my Christmas tree.

To make the most of the festivities in Durham, I ended up doing a few things. Of course, eating as many Christmas dishes and desserts was high on my list. One thing that’s so great about being in Durham at this time is it seems like almost every restaurant has got Christmas-themed foods and drinks. So I merrily made my way through the different options, and it was really great to visit some of my favourite restaurants that had special menu items exclusive to this time of year.

Spending more time with friends

Another thing I made quite high on my priority list was having mini celebrations with my friends. Even though I wasn’t with my family, what was a really fun alternative was getting to have other mini-celebrations with my friends. Spending Christmas in Durham meant that I had longer to see my uni mates and make small plans with them, which I would not get to experience at all in South Africa.

For instance, some of my friends and I had a Christmas dinner where we divided up the dishes to cook between us, brought them all to one of our houses, and had a little celebration meal. The Disney gang had a Christmas movie night (or three), as most of us were staying in Durham over the holidays, so we met at least once a week to have dinner and watch a film. My Creative Writing Exec friends and I hosted a Christmas quiz and had a Christmas movie marathon because they live locally, we got to decorate
cookies together, and generally in groups we’ve done walks to see the lights and it was such a new and fun way to enjoy this time of year.

Get the decs out

Now many of my friends did not stay in Durham for Christmas, but what was quite special is that everyone who did stay in Durham over the holidays almost seemed to become better friends, because I think everyone makes a bit of a special effort to include anyone who may be alone. So, even though I was alone, I wasn’t really alone.

The last thing I did to really make sure Christmas still felt like Christmas, is I threw myself into ‘feeling festive’. I wasn’t in college, although the college did have a few opportunities for students who were staying home over the break. I was living in my flat, so I decided to go all out and decorate. I had a big decorating party for me, myself and I, with my Christmas tunes on and the fairy lights twinkling, and by the time I was done the flat felt beyond festive. I made the most of my opportunities to celebrate with
friends, as I mentioned, but I also celebrated by myself a little too. I went for long walks around Durham taking in all the decorations, I did a lot of baking (and eating), binge-watched cheesy Christmas films, and took some time to just relax and de-stress after a busy term of uni, in between calling my friends and family back home.

So, as I hope you can tell from my ramblings, spending Christmas in Durham was such a fun experience for me, even though it was my first time celebrating away from my family. It can be really great, and the memories you make will always be special. Make the most of finding ways to celebrate with your friends, and just try and squish as many things in that will help make it a fun, special and enjoyable time for YOU.

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Tia van Loggerenberg

Hey everyone! I’m Tia van Loggerenberg. I’m a second-year international student doing Education Studies single honours in John Snow College. I’m the founder and president of the Disney Society, secretary for the creative writing society and chocolate enthusiast. I also run a lifestyle blog called Tall Blonde Tales, where I include stories and advice about university, so if you’re interested, you can check that out too! Today, I’m sharing some of my favourite places to eat in Durham - I hope you enjoy it! 

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