Since I can remember, my family have eaten Christmas dinner on December 24th, the main attraction of which is not the turkey, but the scratch cards that my grandma lays on the table to do before we dig in. At college and away from home, Christmas becomes a time to create new traditions: watching the lights turn on in Front Square or learning not to mix Baileys, mulled wine and mulled cider (take it from me).
But, for students, the festive season is also exam season. My first deadline this year coincided with the release of the John Lewis Christmas advert, and my last essay is due the same week as Christmas Day. As assignments snowball towards the end of the Michaelmas semester, so do social events, be they society balls or pub crawls. Every degree the temperature drops in the Ussher seems to be another sign to abandon work and celebrate. And by celebrate, I mean drink.
College is already associated with alcohol – students drink more than their peers not in tertiary education. So is Christmas. The consumption of alcohol rises during late November/December, and in Ireland the Friday before Christmas is when the most alcohol is drunk all year (a 114% increase compared to a normal Friday). Although the vast majority of Trinity students say they don’t feel pressure to drink, there is undoubtedly pressure to be social (even if it does only stem from your own FOMO). The desire to do well can rub up against the fact that most socialising around this time of year will involve the offer of something alcoholic.
This obviously comes with some side effects. It’s not simply the choice between an evening at the pub or in the library; a hangover becomes a headache in more ways than one when you have deadlines looming and can’t afford to take a morning – let alone a day – off. Speaking of things students can’t afford… Christmas is notoriously expensive. With the price of a pint in Dublin as it currently stands, time-honoured traditions like Twelve Pubs become more of a burden on your budget than they are on your liver. Even socialising without drinking can be expensive, since tickets to society events span a wide price range, and earlier sunsets might necessitate taxis home from nights out.
Increasingly, the statistics show that young people are drinking less, and it makes sense. Avoiding alcohol is undeniably a good idea. It benefits your physical and mental health, as well as your bank account. A few of my friends don’t drink at all, and it never makes them less fun to be around. But for those of us who do drink, I wonder whether Christmas makes this indulgence less healthy not because consuming alcohol is harmful in itself (though it is), but because the combination of Christmas and College makes it difficult to do this in moderation.
The structure of the college semester doesn’t really reward balance. All-nighters are as ubiquitous among students as a battered pair of Doc Martens, in part due to essay deadlines and exams falling thick and fast in the same couple of weeks. As an English student, all my modules except one this year rely on a single essay for 100 percent of my grade. This doesn’t really support working slowly and steadily, as much as I try to get started early. When students are stressed — as nine in ten of us are — spending large amounts of time in the library can help give the illusion that we are in control of our work and futures. I also think there is a certain pressure at Trinity, and no doubt other universities, to be working away late in the library because you know others are, regardless of whether it makes you more efficient.
Christmas, also, has never really encouraged doing things by halves. When this means more decorations and Mariah on the playlist, I’m all for it. But combined with everything I’ve just mentioned, it seems this time of year encourages either abstaining or indulging completely. If you’re not drinking most nights, or saying no to certain social offers because you have work to do, then you’d better make it count on the night you do let yourself go. 60.2 per cent of 18-24 year olds in Ireland binge drink monthly, and I would hazard a guess that this increases around the holidays. Living in an expensive city also encourages drinking vast amounts quickly, as prinks become essential not only to start the night off right but to avoid bankruptcy.
It might seem like putting more focus on studying would reduce the amount we drink, but (conveniently, perhaps) I don’t really see this as a sustainable solution. The more pressure we put ourselves on the academic or social front, the more the other suffers. Allowing ourselves to blow off steam is important, and trying to restrict this only increases the likelihood of burnout, and adds pressure to occasions that are meant to be fun. Equally, being able to “just stay for one drink” or leave a night early on occasion if you have work to do shouldn’t be seen as boring because “it’s Christmas”.
Trying to do everything is impossible, and Christmas and College can’t always be neatly wrapped together with a little bow. But socialising – and potentially a drink or two – doesn’t have to be an enemy to academics. Seeing it as such just puts more pressure on ourselves in both realms. This year, I’m going to try a new tradition of finding some balance between the different pressures of the festive season.