How We Spend Our Holiday Break

Is your holiday break filled with fun ...

It is the holiday break for professors, students and staff at colleges and universities.  I have experienced 40 of them, from all three perspectives.  For all of us, it is an integral part of the academic year.  Here are some thoughts.

Is it a holiday break or a Christmas break?  In the USA, I think it is Christmas break.  Decades ago, we would conclude the fall term by wishing each other, “Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”  Then Christmas wishes fell out of favor because religious sentiments are politically incorrect in a secular world.  At my previous stop, the always proper university president would send out seasons greetings (one year he wished us happy holidays).  Now, however, Christmas break seems to be making a comeback.  Perhaps most of us recognize that Christmas has been taken over by merchants and shoppers.  Because Christmas is a secular holiday, then it might now be acceptable to refer to it as Christmas break.  Better yet, refer to it as Christmas Shopping Break.  Respect your merchants and they will take care of you.

What we do when home with the family has now changed.  At home with my college age sons and their friends, we’d all be sitting around the living room, each Facebooking on a separate laptop.  Social media have taken over the break period.

The amount of attention paid to the New Year holiday is a function of your station in life.  For students, it is time to party (is it still pronounced parTAY?).  Being home alone might be fine for Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin’s signature role), but it isn’t for any college student.  For old professors who no longer need to eat beans to function as an old fart, getting to bed on time is much more pleasurable than TV watching the ball drop on Times Square.

For the majority of my years in academia, I’ve been at schools with a three week break, but now I’m at a school with a two week break.  I’m discovering that the break’s length has a major impact on what can be accomplished.  A two week break leaves little time for anything but sleeping, napping, shopping, feasting, Facebooking (and other social media) and watching athletic events on TV.

My sons, home from grad school, are relaxing.  One has a two week break, the other has three.  The two week break doesn’t leave enough time for him to do anything but tend to his non-working life.  The son with a three week break will be able to devote several days to finding that perfect job after college.

When I was at a school with a three week break, I had lots of time to work on scholarly matters.  I’d read papers, do statistical tests on data sets, and submit papers.  But this break has been different.  There are only two weeks to get lots of things done.  Here’s my schedule for the 16 day period:

  • Grade exams and papers for fall term:  4 days
  • Travel from college town to home, and back again:  3 days
  • Shopping:  1 day
  • Christmas holiday with family:  1 day
  • E-mail (at a rate of 300 per day):  2 days
  • Chatting with coffee shop friends:  2 days
  • Preparing syllabi for next term:  1 day
  • Blogging, LinkedIn, Facebook:  2 days
  • Scholarly activities:  no time left

... or work?

I’m getting feedback from professor friends.  One writes, “Submitted a paper to National Tax Journal this week and am finishing a paper for the JAR Conference. Also working on a couple of other projects.”  Another writes, “Attended some social gatherings, finished a submission to Journal of Accounting and Public Policy (haha!!! a capital market based corporate governance study), went with my wife to Somerset Mall in Troy, Michigan with my son and his girl friend.”  Retired professor Bob Jensen writes, “… for the next 40 years I don’t think I ever had a real “break” in which I did not work all or part of every day called a break.   … But then I never did deal very well with leisure time. My (grown) kids remind me of this now and then. Sigh!”

I much prefer having a three week Christmas break.  With only two weeks, there simply isn’t enough time to get caught up on everything I put off during fall semester.

by David Albrecht

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