Winter holidays at Queen’s

Students practice cultural and religious holidays away from home

Many clubs on campus help students celebrate their culture on campus.
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Professors are wrapping up their lectures and students are rushing towards the end of their semester with the holiday fervor hovering in the background. While students are preparing themselves for academia’s Olympics, they’re also engaging in cultural and religious winter holidays.

Queen’s has around 300 student-run clubs on campus, many of which allow students to meet peers from shared cultural and religious backgrounds. These clubs host entertaining socials and events, providing students a space to celebrate their holidays at Queen’s.

The Journal interviewed four students of different cultural and religious backgrounds to gain a greater understanding of how students carry out their holiday traditions away from home.

Sydney-Savannah Joseph-Libstug, ArtSci ’24, explained how she reconciled her religious Christian and Jewish background with her cultural Caribbean background at Queen’s. In an interview with The Journal, she described herself as Catholic, and said her father’s side is Jewish, so she tends to celebrate both Christmas and Hannukah.

She said events like Christmas are times when her extended family comes together. A large portion of her family comes from outside of Canada from countries like the United States and Trinidad and Tobago, where her parents are from. So, she normally has a lot of people staying at her house over the holiday season.

At Christmas Eve dinner, her family says what they’re thankful for and makes large portions of food together. On Christmas day, they open gifts and have a “really big breakfast” with around 15 to 20 people circulating in and out of the house. Joseph-Libstug said this family environment is valuable because it gives her a space to have many people to play games with.

Speaking about her second year at Queen’s, she said she didn’t have the best opportunity to engage in holiday-related university culture because, around the time, “COVID[-19] was getting really big again.”

In her first year, COVID-19 had an even larger negative impact on her approach to the holidays.

“There wasn’t much of anything,” she said. “I haven’t really seen what sort of community Queen’s can offer in terms of Christmas and times like that. So, it would be nice to see that.”

Joseph-Libstug also said, as a sciences student, she had exams up until Dec. 23 last year. She said it was particularly difficult to have exams so close to Christmas Day because, during this period, she usually has many family events beginning at home.

She said she struggled dealing with the stress of exams amidst the desire to be at home with her family. She was also unfamiliar with a lot of the Catholic organizations on Queen’s, due to the pandemic.

“Usually [the exam period] goes into times where my family events are starting to happen, so it can be hard. It can be a very stressful period,” she said.

This fall, classes end on Dec. 5 and exams run from Dec. 8 to 22.

Emily Lackie, campus media lead for Queen’s Hillel, also spoke to the difficulty of writing exams during times of religious celebration—especially because Queen’s semester breaks do not coincide with minority religious holidays.

Lackie identifies as Jewish and practices her religion on campus, away from her home in Toronto. She’s lived in Kingston for the past three years and enjoys going to Jewish events set up by Queen’s Hillel.

“It’s really nice to have a group to celebrate with,” she said in an interview with The Journal.

She also likes to FaceTime her parents on Friday nights to light the candles, say their blessings, and celebrate Shabbat. Shabbat is Judaism’s Day of rest and can be celebrated beginning with a blessing called Kiddush.

Alongside these individual practices, Lackie shares her religion with her roommate; they light the candles of their menorah while saying the blessings together during Hannukah.

“It’s hard to do everything when you’re away from home because there are so many other responsibilities with school and learning to be independent,” she said. “I do like being able to have someone from my cultural background continue my traditions with me.”

Last year, Lackie could not go home for Passover, so she had her own Seder. Seder is a ritual meal eaten at the beginning of Passover, often in the family home or in larger groups within the community.

In her efforts to mediate the gap between her religious traditions and her life at Queen’s, separate from her family and home, Lackie practices her religion when she can. Yet, she said these barriers she faces are not limited to Judaism.

“I think anybody who is part of a minority culture is likely going to run into barriers in terms of scheduling with classes, exams, anything like that.”

Like Joseph-Libstug, she’s faced barriers with exam scheduling. She added some of these barriers are more pronounced during the winter term as these exams normally take place during Judaism’s biggest holiday: Passover.

Lackie also knows a lot of people from different cultural backgrounds run into similar issues, and recognizes the difficulties in having a single schedule to accommodate every single holiday.

“There are inevitably going to be overlaps when classes are and some people will be struggling with that scheduling,” she said.

If there are religious observances during the day of an exam, students can file an accommodation that defers their exam to a different day.

These requests are submitted to the Faith and Spiritual Life’s Religious Accommodation webpage, which contains a multi-faith calendar and information on accommodations. The page notes there’s a firm deadline for religious accommodation requests and defines a religious observance as holy days observed by a member of a particular faith, where they’re not expected to work.

If the accommodation goes through, the University reschedules them at the earliest possible date.

Despite these barriers to celebrating Judaism during the academic term, Lackie said Hillel has given her the opportunity to engage with a Jewish community at the university.

“I love hearing other people’s perspective on the holidays […] I like that there’s a variance to the types of events.”

She mentioned a cooking event in which students make latkes together, eat Hannukah food and come together in a lighthearted way. She said these events allow people who do not regularly practice Judaism go to events and connect with people in their community.

“The Jewish community is very diverse. There’s something for anybody who wants to access any part of their Jewish heritage.”

Humna Siddiqui and Mayy Mounib, co-chairs of Queen’s Muslim Student Association (QUMSA), also told The Journal about the events they hold at Queen’s, and the significance of holidays like Eid, providing some insight into Islamic traditions at Queen’s.

Leading up to Eid, Muslim students have a month of fasting from sunrise to sundown called Ramadan. This can be difficult for students because it’s normally a time when Muslims come together and spend time with their families. It’s also a time when they can feel more empathetic towards less fortunate communities who don’t have access to food and water.

QUMSA host weekly mid-day prayers every Friday at Queen’s, which last about an hour and act as a good way for students to come together and attend prayer. During Ramadan, they host nightly prayers.

Siddiqui and Mounib said Eid and Ramadan are the biggest holidays in Islam and echoed the issue of exam conflicts during the winter semester. This winter semester will be the first time in three years Ramadan is overlapping with the school year, so they feel they have a responsibility to make the campus more welcoming for Muslim students.

They plan on hosting daily meals where students can come together to break their fast and experience a family like they would celebrating Ramadan at home.

“The main way we connect with our community is by hosting events because it gives them an opportunity to get together and do something fun,” Mounib said in an interview.

QUMSA went on a sunrise hike at Rock Dunder last week, which Siddiqui and Mounib said saw a great turnout. They’re also planning for events during the exam season, contacting residence dons and other students to make them feel more connected.

“We’re trying our best to help people feel less lonely, especially students in residences,” Mounib said.  

When The Journal asked students about the impact of holidays on their community, they spoke to a larger cultural experience unique to their hometowns and families.

“I feel like you’re seeing a lot of different forms of expression and more people of colour are more outwardly expressed,” Joseph-Libstug said.

Despite having a Catholic religious background, she also grew up Cuban and celebrates cultural holidays like Caribana, which involves listening to soca music and going to dancehalls. She struggled to adjust to the lack of this cultural presence at Queen’s after coming from a more diverse area like the GTA.

However, since students and clubs are hosting more cultural events again after the pandemic, she feels there are more opportunities to meet like-minded people from similar cultural backgrounds, and not find friends only in her major.

In a statement to The Journal, the University spoke to their efforts to provide support and community for students celebrating holidays at Queen’s.

“Both the Queen’s University International Centre and Four Directions work year-round to support students in building community, making connections and creating a ‘home away from home’ with their activities, spaces and programming,” the University wrote.

If students decide to stay in Kingston for the winter break, the QUIC organizes two to three social events like Coffee in Market Square, where international students can meet each other and potentially make further plans.

“This helps them plan to stay as busy and social as they like,” the University wrote.

Four Directions’ services are also available during the exam period to provide Indigenous students with opportunities for ongoing support and community. Before the end of the winter term, they host a feast and social to celebrate the end of classes. They will also be hosting a holiday party before the break with student Social Ambassadors to kick off the festive season.

Faith and Spiritual Life will also be running study breaks and support programs through exams.

“[These events are] designed to foster an inclusive and supportive community and a sense of belonging in whatever way each student chooses to spend their winter holidays,” the University added.

If you’re looking for some specialty foods on campus, Hospitality Services will be celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa with items inspired by special ingredients and dishes associated with these holidays and cultures. These services will be offered in the dining halls across campus. They will also be hosting a dining hall carnival from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1.

“We find our own ways of celebrating,” Siddiqui said. “That’s either visiting family [or] branching out to that community and potentially doing some community outreach, like volunteering with other potential partners within religious communities.”

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