An Oxmas Like No Other

Image description: Christmas market in Oxford at night – market stalls on Broad Street surrounded by crowds of people and Christmas lights.

For me, Michaelmas term has always been a bit of a difficult term to get into. While it marks the start of an exciting new academic year with new and returning students joining college communities, it’s also symbolic of the end of summer. October marks the start of windy and wet weather; no more trips to Magdalen bridge for ice cream and punting. Before I know it, after a hard day’s work in the library, by 5pm I find myself trudging around a dark and cold Oxford, hurrying desperately to get back inside to my ever-so-slightly warmer bedroom. 

That’s not to say that there isn’t anything to look forward to during this time of the year. Alongside the rather short-lived Halloween and Bonfire nights, and then, of course, Diwali, one of the biggest(if not the biggest) events of the term is Oxmas – Oxford’s answer to Christmas. It happens exactly a month before Christmas day and contains all of the same festivities that you would expect in the run-up to December the 25th. 

Since Oxmas is a whole month before Christmas, it’s a nice way to build up momentum for the real thing.

I know, I know, it sounds a little odd to be celebrating Christmas a month earlier than everyone else. I thought the same when I first came to Oxford nearly a decade ago(!), but before I knew it the momentary weirdness went away. I found myself joining in with the Christmas carols at evensong, waiting impatiently to watch the latest John Lewis advert with my friends and downing glasses of mulled wine in hall, wearing the ugliest Christmas jumper known to man.

There’s something quite wholesome about the whole thing. While I fully recognise that Christmas has itself become very commercialised, Oxmas feels different. It’s not really about the presents or shopping, it’s about spending time with good company, enjoying a nice dinner in hall and dancing to classic Christmas tunes in your student flat. Since Oxmas is a whole month before Christmas, it’s a nice way to build up momentum for the real thing.

There’s something about this time of year that makes me suddenly change my attitude towards the term. When Oxmas hits, the cold doesn’t feel like an annoyance anymore; I look forward to cosying up at home with blankets and hot drinks, the bleak nights become lit up by fairy lights and stunning decorations, shops blasting wholesome songs make me feel warm and fuzzy inside and I find myself looking forward to various Secret Santa exchanges with college pals and housemates. I like walking past college quads with their beautifully-decorated Christmas trees and the various Oxmas-related events that JCRs and MCRs put on. Watching Love Actually in my MCR with a cup of hot chocolate definitely gets me into the spirit! 

In my eight years at Oxford, I have had so many wonderful Oxmas memories: attending Oxmas formal dinner in Hall with my undergrad friends, decorating our student rooms with tinsel, singing carols terribly in the Sheldonian with minced pies in our hands, and dressing up for Christmas bops – I once went as the naughty list with a massive piece of cardboard attached to me and a pen so that people could sign it (don’t ask…).

There’s something about this time of year that makes me suddenly change my attitude towards the term.

As I’ve become an MCR member, I’ve looked forward to taking our annual photo in the Hall and talking to international students about their own traditions. Last year, I also enjoyed delivering an Oxmas speech full of Christmas movie quotes. I’ve truly loved being able to celebrate this occasion with friends before they head home for the winter vacation, especially with those who aren’t able to experience a traditional Christmas out of term time.  

Of course, this year Oxmas is very different. With Lockdown and the non-existence of our annual Oxmas social interactions, what is usually a happy time has left many students feeling uncertain and isolated, wondering whether they’ll even get to spend Christmas with their loved ones this year.

There’s no denying it, the whole situation is really rubbish and I truly feel for those who will be alone this Christmas. Having made the heartbreaking but practical decision to also not go home for the holidays, I’ve only recently made peace with the idea of being apart from my loved ones. After feeling down about it for a couple of weeks and pining for family memories that won’t be reenacted this year, I’ve decided that all isn’t lost. I can still make the most of it this year in my own way, especially during Oxmas when some of my housemates will still be here for a few more weeks before they leave for home. 

In fact, Oxmas is a good opportunity to celebrate with friends before the holidays begin and students flee the city. Even though I’m away from family, my international bubble has already become my second family in many ways; they’ve kept me company through my homesickness during Diwali and have encouraged me to engage in different activities and traditions which I otherwise wouldn’t have done, including the Oxford Christmas Light Festival and Thanksgiving. 

While none of this will be the same as it usually is, it’s something. 

On the 25th of November I intend to keep up our ‘housemates bonding’ with a special Oxmas twist – baking a remotely edible Christmas cake for everyone and enjoying a classic Christmas film complete with an ugly jumper, mince pies and mulled wine. It’ll be more lowkey than the usual Oxmas antics that I find myself getting involved in, but it’ll be equally nice. 

I intend to also check in on other pals in Oxford, perhaps even with a cheeky Oxmas virtual pub quiz! Likewise, I’ve spoken to friends who are organising their own dinners with an international twist; their housemates are each incorporating their local dishes and traditions. Some colleges are even putting on their own socially distanced Oxmas dinners in hall. While none of this will be the same as it usually is, it’s something. 

Oxmas doesn’t have to be cancelled. If this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s to be thankful for what we have, and to plan (safe) things to look forward to. While Oxmas doesn’t take away the awful situation that we have found ourselves in, it will provide many of us with a nice momentary break from it all. 

This quirky Oxford tradition is a time when people come together and enjoy each other’s company and that’s exactly what I intend to do. I hope many of you who usually celebrate Oxmas find your own creative ways to enjoy it with friends, old and new. One day I’ll look back on this time and I’ll be glad to have tried my best to establish some sense of normalcy in my life.  

Have yourselves a merry little Oxmas!

 Image credit: Nupur Patel (author)