An Ordinary Winter Break

I tend to ease into the same comfortable and predictable schedule every year when I return home for a winter break from school:

Christmas Eve: Visit cousins and eat copiously

Christmas Day: Exchange gifts with family and eat copiously

New Year’s Eve: Celebrate with old high school friends, eat copiously and drink champagne

Every day: Do anything but work

Going home to New Jersey and falling into this routine is like gravity to me.  My sister is home from college, my dad is home because our farm is off-season, my mom is home extra days from the office, and my old friends are home from school or wherever else.  I have a lot of people to take it easy with, and, anyway, the holidays are supposed to be the time of year when just loafing around is okay.

I’ll spend the afternoon shopping with my sister because the stores are having year-end sales, or I’ll watch all of the football games on TV with my dad, and in the evenings I might meet up with friends at a local bar.  Most of my hometown friends pass their breaks in the same way, although some spend more or less time visiting extended family.

Being home for the holidays isn’t particularly exciting, but it’s comfortable, familiar, and satisfying in a low-key kind of way.  Spring break is different because I’m usually away on trips, and summer break is different because I’m usually working full-time.  Winter break is its own kind of warm blanket that I cozy up and fall asleep in.  This year especially, since we had a 20-inch snowstorm in New Jersey, nothing was more natural than to stay indoors for a few days.

The Americana Diner

Americana Diner
The Americana Diner in East Windsor, New Jersey

Thinking about comfort zones and about my hometown reminds me of a diner that I’ve frequented with my old schoolmates for the past ten years.  I found myself there a few times this past winter break.  The food is pretty standard, but the diner is open late every day, it’s easy to get to, and I like the consistency of being able to return to the same place.  It’s usually not our first choice, but it’s always a nice choice, and it’s always on the table whenever someone asks the question, “Well, where should we go tonight?”  I know I can count on the place for free bread, decent beer, and good quesadillas.

That’s kind of where I’m at with the idea of going home for the holidays, compared to other winters I spent overseas before returning to grad school.  It’s not that glamorous or colorful, but it’s nice and reliable and pleasant because I’m always there with people who I’ve liked and known for a long time.  In reality, sitting in a diner booth for a few of hours with a friend, talking about nothing in particular, and sharing a drink and an appetizer is probably 50% of everything I expect out of life.  It’s my winter break mindset in a nutshell, like idle indulgence, or a return to old routines.

Going back to school

I came back to Washington, D.C. a few days ago, but it’s not quite right to say I feel refreshed by my three weeks off.  I’m probably in more of a stupor now than I was when I finished my final exams.  I’ve become accustomed to sleeping late and being frivolous with my time.

It’s all because an ordinary winter break to me is just time spent standing still – comfortable and happy, with family and old friends and familiar places, but a reprieve from work that I know can’t last.  It’s a momentum killer, but it’s a nice one, even if I’ll pay the price later for not keeping up with my language studies as well as I should have.  Now that I’m back at school and writing up this post though, my interlude at home is over, and I feel pretty ready to start working hard again.