The Calm Before the Storm: photo by Andrea Zellner

Whether it be that you are agnostic about the holiday season or not, there really seems to be no escaping it. With campus closing down for next few weeks, the pressures build as we prepare for gift giving, traveling, and generally surviving the holidays.  On Monday, Amy Rubens gave us some sage advice about how best to prevent potential mishaps that result when leaving our grad school homes for our homes of origin. While troubleshooting is one excellent way to handle and prevent some of the stress associated with this time of year, I believe there are particular stresses that are come with being a graduate student at the holidays.

It’s hard not feel like Cousin Eddie.  One of my all-time favorite movies is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  Cousin Eddie is the free-loading, down-on-his-luck, unexpected holiday house guest. When I returned to grad school, I left a job that provided a pretty decent living for myself. Now I scrape by on my graduate assistant salary and it’s really not what it used to be. Whether you’ve experienced similar ups and downs of financial fortune, it is hard to be an adult living on a student salary.  While I can’t provide the types of gifts I used to, I try to use what talents I have to compensate for my lack of ability to buy presents.  For example, the past few years I have relied on Snapfish to help me make presents for my extended family: I raid my relatives’ Facebook profiles for pictures and mix those in with ones I’ve taken throughout the year, as well as old pictures that I’ve scanned.

An example from our family calendar

I use these photos to create a family calendar complete with birthdays and anniversaries highlighted by a picture on the actual date.  I didn’t do a true experimental design, but I swear that the calendar increased the phone calls on significant family events among my extended family.  While this is not an extravagant gift money-wise, my family loves it.

It feels like you have a very shiny nose. I don’t know about you, but while my family is very smart, they generally have no idea what it is I do in graduate school.  If one of them does take pity on me to inquire about what it is I am doing, it doesn’t take long before I see their eyes glaze over and they wander off to discuss something more pleasant, like dentistry.  Even though I think I’m doing a great job leaving out the jargon and being succinct, obsessing about hierarchical linear models for the past sixteen weeks has done something to my ability to have a normal conversation. While some foggy night this information may come in handy,  most of the time I tend to feel a bit like I can’t join in the reindeer games.  Prior to large family gatherings I like to study up on celebrity gossip, just in case, and I find I can’t go wrong by asking, “No, let’s not talk about me: tell me how YOU are doing.” If watching Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer has taught me anything, it’s that no matter how much of a misfit I am, being true to myself is of utmost importance.  Oh, and don’t underestimate the importance of a toothless abominable snowman.


And finally, the most important lesson that I’ve learned about the holidays is to be grateful for what I have. After all,  I could be battling terrorists or the evil spawn of my adorable furry pet instead of long lines, crabby travelers, and gift-giving stress (that’s right: both Gremlins AND the original Die Hard are Christmas movies).

How do you handle holiday stress? We need your suggestions in the comments!

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