Christmas and Loneliness for PhD Students: Curse or Blessing?

Writing a PhD is a lonely process! Most of us dedicated scholars have been through the endless nights in front of the computer screen, we declined offers for a pint in the local pub or a cup of coffee in the corner café, and we missed the wedding of our best friend because we happened to be abroad on a conference. How much more antisocial could we be? Despite the lonely nature of the PhD, valiant departments are determined to create a social environment for the almost forgotten students. They organize the weekly seminar, during which PhD students sit attentively for an hour and half in order to contribute to the discussion with one enlightening question, and later they mingle with staff for another half an hour over drinks. Some dedicated colleagues organize film evenings, so that students stay in front of the screen for two hours every week with the passing hope that more drinks will follow. We make provisions, so that they share an office with the rest of the students under the unwritten agreement that they will not speak to each other, while they conduct their research. Eventually, silence and isolation become the norm. By the third year, the once social animals, remain animals but lose their social aspect.

During the four long years, Christmas comes as a shiny light in the lives of humanoids. And almost every year the message is misinterpreted and the chance is lost. Especially this year a large number of students will spend their holidays in their university town, because they do not have the money to pay for their flight home. The highlight of their day will be Chinese food and a movie (in the States) or a curry and a movie (in the UK). But the economic crisis is not the only one to blame. Even back home most of them will be tempted by the shiny computer screen, or they will feel guilt about their self-imposed idleness. They will go through the annual festivities mechanically, until the guests leave and they are allowed to go upstairs to their old room. There they will indulge in more serious activities (reading or writing) than the dull conversation that went on downstairs about the birth of a new child or the death of a distant relative.

In some cases, the lonely PhD warriors are the lucky ones. They will avoid the old familiar fights during food preparation about the perfect recipe or the spoiled ingredients. They will not be submitted to the stress of decorating the house, shopping for gifts, inviting the guests and, in general, organizing the festivities. They will not collapse overtired in front of the television in the evening, after they cleaned the house, washed the dishes and locked the door. Come to think about it, it is a pity I am no longer a PhD student. My only way out may be to emigrate during the holidays and spend Christmas in a Muslim country!

Merry Christmas everyone!


Economic historian and numismatic consultant


  1. Constantina, you had better choose a properly Muslim country, and not just one that has a substantial Muslim majority. I went to Istanbul for Christmas in 1995, fully expecting to escape. I landed, caught the bus into town and found a hotel. What was in the lobby? A Christmas tree and a model Father Christmas.

    Καλά Χριστούγεννα!

  2. This is true. The Christmas decorations in Bahrain are so over the top that they make even Oxford Street look amateurish. Reindeers and santas everwhere and trees groaning with fake presents in every major hotel and the airport.

    For the first time since my M.Phil year I took the day off on Christmas Day and enjoyed the unseasonally warm Athenian air. Have been working all day on the 24th and 26th though. Books and lectures still need to be written, as do conference papers and workshop presentations…

  3. The experts (above) tell me that I cannot hide in Muslim countries over Christmas. This is terribly disturbing because I thought they were my only option. I suppose that China and Japan are also out of the question, as they increasingly become more westernised.

    If I stay in Europe, how can I get over the obsession of writing every day, including Christmas day? And, please, do not suggest any psychotropic medication!

Leave a Reply