With Thanksgiving coming up next week, it’s safe to say: the holiday season is upon us. In the US, Thanksgiving marks the start of a month of festivities, decorations, and general merriment in the weeks and days leading up to Christmas and the New Year. Christmas might have its origins as a Christian holiday, but admittedly, the holiday has become commercialized and less about a particular religion, and more about friends and family members celebrating and exchanging gifts. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, there are plenty of things to do in the days and weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Year that give you a glimpse into American culture around the holidays. That’s why we’ve rounded up a list of our favorite things about the holiday season in the US.
If you live on campus, we recommend grabbing some of your friends, renting a car (or a Zipcar) and heading out to the suburbs! There are so many neighborhoods where people drape their homes in thousands of lights and adorn their lawn with decorations befitting a winter wonderland. If you do a little internet research, it’s likely you can even find some neighborhoods in your area known for getting into the holiday spirit. Play some Christmas music while you drive by and admire people’s commitment to the holiday!
Want your picture taken with Santa? Go to a local mall and meet him! Usually malls will put together a faux North Pole and allow people to pay a certain amount of money to take a photo with Santa Claus. Many malls hire a Santa specifically for the holiday season, ensuring he looks the part. Normally you’ll see little kids waiting in line for a chance to meet Santa and tell him what they want for Christmas, but this could be your opportunity to make sure you made it on the “nice list” this year.
There are, of course, tons of classic American Christmas movies. You might be familiar with Elf, A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, and others. Gather some friends and have a Christmas movie marathon, coupled with some hot chocolate. There has also been a recent cultural phenomenon surrounding made-for-TV Christmas movies. These are movies made specifically for TV networks. You can find lots on Netflix, and even on the Hallmark Channel, which is known for some overly romantic (and maybe unrealistic) storylines, but that still prove fun to watch.
We love any reason for a party – and the holidays are a great reason! People come together and listen to Christmas music, drink eggnog, and participate in general merriment. Some parties will feature gift-giving, while others will just focus on celebrating another holiday season and the approaching new year. In recent years, “Ugly Sweater Parties” have become extremely popular around the holidays. These ugly sweater parties require guests to wear sweaters that tend to be extremely festive and holiday-themed. They’re not ugly, so much as they are a little exaggerated in their commitment to the holiday theme. Whatever holiday party that pops up on your schedule, be sure to attend as they’re a great way to celebrate and meet new people.
We love being able to select the perfect gift for our friends and family members, but one of the other fun parts of the holidays is participating in popular gift-giving games. There’s the gift-giving game “White Elephant,” also known as “Yankee Swap” and “Dirty Santa,” in which participants pick gifts and get to swap them with others. “Secret Santa” is also a popular and more benevolent gift-giving game where members of a group assign each person a single gift recipient. That person then buys a gift for their recipient, but keeps their identity a mystery, usually revealed only after the gift has been given. These gift-giving games are a fun way to participate in gift-giving.
Every holiday throughout the year comes with its own traditional treats, Christmas is no exception. Christmas is generally associated with its cookies, and many people will have “cookie swaps” around this time of year to share their cookies with friends or family members and maximize their own treats. People will bake basic sugar cookies and then decorate them with sprinkles and frosting. This can be a fun activity to do as a group, or even just on your own – but be sure to share!
Throughout the US, many cities and towns will host a tree-lighting or just a lights ceremony to commemorate the start of the holiday season. There might not be as much pomp and circumstance as you see in the movies, but it’s a great way to feel like a part of your community, and sometimes there can be other events planned in addition to the lighting – and usually hot chocolate and other treats.
Outdoor ice skating
With colder weather comes the perfect conditions for outdoor ice skating. Some cities and towns will transform a part of their parks into a place for ice skating by creating a rink open to the public. Bring some of your friends, rent ice skates, and don’t worry so much about falling down! Be sure to wear warm clothes, a hat, scarf, and gloves so that you can enjoy the experience of skating without getting too cold. It’ll be a fun experience for you and your friends.
Giving back to charity
Though this time of year is special for so many reasons, one of the most special reasons is that it provides us with the opportunity to reflect on what we have, and how we can help others. In between all of the parties and festivities, don’t forget to think about others who might not be as fortunate. Participate in school fundraisers or charitable events as a way to show your support for others in the community, or consider volunteering your time at a homeless shelter or other organization serving those in need. Helping others will make you feel good and is great way to cap off the holiday season and your year.