Christmas means different things to different people, and at Abbey College, the University of Otago’s prograduate residential college, Christmas is a chance for around 60 candidates to enjoy a traditional kiwi Christmas with all the trimmings.
75% of the College’s residents are international and most of the kiwi residents go home for the holidays. For those that stay in Dunedin Christmas at Abbey College is a special day for everyone. Dr Charles Tustin, Head of the College, explained that Abbey is home for students from 26 different countries around the world and this will be the first time many of them have experienced Christmas in the summer.*
Dr Tustin will be celebrating his second Christmas at the College this year and expects that, like last year, his wife Brenda, three daughters Karen, Lindsay and Michelle, and their partners will join him in the dining room to celebrate with the students.
There are decorations in the foyer and the dining room with a big Christmas tree and a specially catered meal including all the usual Christmas treats and enough food for the residents to enjoy some tasty leftovers in the evening.
The students who call Abbey College home decorate the tree and this year’s looks fabulous.
Because many of the residents have not experienced a New Zealand style Christmas before, they tend to make a real effort and get dressed up for the day before donning their party hats and pulling their Christmas crackers over a glass of bubbles or a beer.
Gemma Cotton moved to Dunedin from England in September 2013 and has lived at Abbey College since she arrived. Gemma is undertaking a PhD with the Chemistry Department and has this to say about her Abbey College Christmas experience:
“Abbey creates a Christmas for everyone to enjoy no matter what part of the world you’re from. It’s a time when we all get together as a college family, put up a tree, watch Christmas films and have a festive feast! It’s a real home from home at a time when you need it most.”
A special touch for all the residents who call Abbey College home is a hand-written card and some chocolates from Dr Tustin.
On receipt of his Christmas card last year, French Abbey resident, Martin Hitier, sent Dr Tustin this message: “Thank you very much for your nice Christmas card and your wishes. I remember how good it was to have a place like Abbey when I just arrived last year before Christmas. Feeling the warm of humankind is particularly important at this period and I am happy to spend another Christmas here.”
Dr Tustin recounted this story to me about his first Christmas at Abbey College in 2013, “last year, one of our residents mentioned to me that a group of Abbey residents had come up with a special expression to describe Christmas at the College, namely “Abbey Christmas”. I thought this was excellent so now I wish everyone “(H)Abbey Christmas”!”
It sounds like such a special day, I’m actually tempted to cancel my holiday in Moeraki and book a place at an Abbey table… and I don’t even do Christmas!
*Even after having Christmas in Dunedin they still might not have experienced a summer Christmas!
Susan Craig, Graduate Research School