While some of you might be getting ready to go back home for the holidays, some of you may be spending Christmas at UoB. Don’t worry, as lots of our students, particularly international students, stay on campus during the holidays. While it’s a quieter time than usual, there’s still plenty for you to do on campus, in halls, and in Birmingham.
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, this is a time for spreading joy, giving back and making memories. See this as a chance to experience new things, make new friends and spend time celebrating with people you usually wouldn’t meet.
So, wherever you’re from, on this page you can find tips from other international students, what British Christmas traditions are, what winter essentials you’ll need and lots more.
Cook a traditional Christmas dinner
Like in many cultures, food plays an important part in the festivities. In the UK, there are certain foods that are mainly only eaten at Christmas, for example, Mince pies and Pigs in Blankets (they’re yummier than they sound!).
A traditional British Christmas dinner usually consists of a roast Turkey (or meat alternative) served with lots of vegetables. You can have a go at making a traditional Christmas dinner and festive puddings, by following some of these great recipes:
Speaking of food...
Did you know that in Japan, back in 1974, the American fast-food restaurant KFC released a festive marketing campaign in Japan? The slogan "Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!" (Kentucky for Christmas!) started a national tradition that still thrives to this day. Although Christmas isn't a national holiday in Japan, families from all over the country head to their local KFC for a special Christmas Eve meal. Yummy!
Plus, if that's not the most unexpected Christmas food combination you've heard, over in Australia, it's barbeque time during Christmas! From huge glazed shrimp, grilled lamb kebabs and all the BBQ trimmings you could ever ask for, Australia has taken a well-done approach to Christmas food.
And if that doesn't get your stomach rumbling, head on over to the most romantic city in the world, Paris, where during Christmas, you can enjoy seafood snacks such as oysters in and around festive markets. Would they earn a spot on your Christmas dinner table?
Share your own traditions
Just because you’re spending Christmas in the UK, it doesn’t mean that you have to do everything the British way!
If you’re an international student away from home, why not gather your friends or housemates together and share some of your country’s traditions like our Student Content Shaper Nataliia?
BA English and Creative Writing student from Ukraine
“In Ukraine, Christmas is about gathering with family and indulging in a delicious traditional home-cooked feast with treats that have been passed down through generations, like kutia (sweet wheat pudding), borsch (beetroot soup), and pierogi (dumplings). Our Godparents also come to visit on this special day, and bring us small presents, adding an extra touch of joy to the celebration. And of course, we can't forget the music! We sing "kolyadki," Ukrainian Christmas carols, to celebrate the holiday spirit.”
Student Yael talks about her own traditions for the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, and suggests sharing your own Christmas traditions.
MA International Relations student from the UK
“If you’re with your flatmates and some of them don’t celebrate Christmas, that’s okay! Why not create a potluck style dinner? Bring in an item of traditional food that’s special to you for your friends to try out your own Christmas traditions. Since Christmas falls around the same time as the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, I decided to bring in potato latkes and donuts to dinner, and it was a special feeling to share my traditions with theirs. It also saves you some money as you’re only responsible for one item of food each. Bonus!”
BA Creative Writing and Film student May shares what she's excited to do during Christmas in Birmingham, and how traditions differ from her home country in Ghana.
BA Creative Writing and Film student from Ghana
“Before coming here, I read that the Birmingham Christmas Market is one of the biggest and best in the UK. So, I’m very excited to see that in person and experience the transformation of the Bullring into a Winter Wonderland! I’m also looking forward to spending time with my newfound family in Birmingham before I head back home to Ghana. My friends and I are particularly keen about the Big Wheel and Ice Skate in the Centenary Square. Most of all, it'll be interesting to see the difference in the celebrations in Birmingham versus Ghana. For example, I've noticed a lot more Christmas-themed events here, whereas in Ghana, the streets will be quieter as families celebrate at home. This gives me the best of both worlds as I get to explore different traditions and go home to the comfort of my family tradition”
And last but certainly not least, MSci Chemistry with Business Management student Hanna tells us what she plans on doing over the break in time for January.
MSci Chemistry with Business Management Student
“As a Muslim, Christmas isn’t a holiday I celebrate, yet I still tend to do the same things that people do on Christmas; I spend more time with family and friends, go crazy over shop sales, and most importantly, eat a lot of good food! One thing I won’t forget is to take a well-deserved break from my studies by planning plenty of time to meet up with friends from home to watch horror movies (then regret doing so in the process) reread my old favourite books, and hope for snow so I can make an unsymmetrical, jolly snowman!”
Giving back this Christmas
We know that this season is a great time for giving and if you’re not sure what to do this Christmas then why not consider volunteering? You’re not only spreading the joy but you’re also supporting a worthy cause. Student Ishita is spending Christmas away from her home in India and plans to volunteer at a dog shelter to make her Christmas even more meaningful.
MSc Marketing student from India
“Try visiting an old age home, an orphanage or a dog shelter and spread the ‘Christmas Cheer’. You and your friends could all go, there is really no feeling greater than being the reason for someone else’s happiness! Being a dog lover, I definitely plan to volunteer at a dog shelter, helping those babies find their forever homes would make me very happy!”
Or how about trying something new? Student Toyosi is looking forward to doing something she would never do in her home country of Nigeria!
Law student from Nigeria
“I am looking forward to experiencing a Christmas Market. I would advise international students to find the perfect people to spend Christmas with, experience the UK’s culture, try things you can’t find in your country (my first Christmas here I tried ice skating) and do some charity work (Christmas is a great time to give back)!”
Check out the BVSC website for volunteering opportunities in and around Birmingham.
Meet up with other students
We know how difficult it can be not to go back home at this time of year, so it’s even more important not to be alone.
With many international students staying around, Student Content Shaper Sharon from Ghana says it’s good to spend time with people and venture out to explore Christmas celebrations in Birmingham.
MSc Development Policy and Politics student from Ghana
“This Christmas in Birmingham, I'm looking forward to exploring the city more and my advice to other international students is to be intentional about spending time with people. There's no need to be shy or afraid of asking your friends to hang out as everyone wants to spend Christmas together with other people.”
Likewise, Student Content Shaper Thomas tells us what he's looking forward to, which might give you some inspiration on spending your Christmas here in Birmingham.
Politics and International Relations student from China
“It’s my third year staying in the UK during Christmas, and like every year before, I can't wait to host a Christmas party with my flatmates and my fellow Hong Kong friends where we can eat lots of great food. Apart from Western food like a classic Sunday roast and my favourite, onion soup, I always like to prepare some simple Hong Kong-style dishes, such as stir fry. Since this is my final year, this sadly might be our last Christmas together, so I really want to treasure these few festive moments and make my Christmas at UoB more memorable!”
Student Content Shaper Muxin is spending her first time celebrating Christmas in the UK.
MSc Marketing student from China
“I come from China. Although Christmas is not a traditional holiday in China, some people here do celebrate it. This is my first time celebrating Christmas in a Western country, and I'm looking forward to it. I hope there will be a strong holiday atmosphere on campus, with decorations and Christmas lights so I can fully enjoy a real, British Christmas.”
PhD student and Distance Learner Michelle from Malaysia shares her country's traditions, and what she's looking forward to the most during Christmas.
PhD (Distance Learner) Education Student
“You know Christmas is nearing in Malaysia when the shopping malls turn a nativity scene! The beauty of being a Malaysian is the multiculturalism, and our love to seize every opportunity to celebrate the holidays. But I also enjoy having a day off. This Christmas, I'll be travelling to a highland 1.5 hours away from Kuala Lumpur with my family and if I feel like it, study while sipping the usual hot peppermint chocolate drinks even though Malaysia is never cold enough to warrant a hot drink!”
- Why not join the Study Abroad Team's Board Games Café at Costa, downstairs in the University Centre on Friday 1 December? Bring a friend or meet some new ones from 15:00 until 17:00. First 50 students to arrive will receive a free hot drink voucher. No need to book, just show up!
Staying in University accommodation?
Don't forget to begin our Countdown to Christmas with a packed programme of activities and events from your Hall Reps over at the Guild of Students. Some highlights include:
Feeling festive? Join your Hall Reps for the Big Christmas Quiz on Thursday 7 December from 17:00. First place will win a £100 Deliveroo gift card – that’s enough to order in a Christmas Dinner for your whole quiz team! There will also be hot chocolate and festive snacks for all quizzers. No need to book, just bring along your student ID! Learn more.
Join your Hall Reps and fellow students staying in University accommodation over the Christmas period for a creative and cosy afternoon of crafts and free hot chocolate on Tuesday 12 December and Tuesday 19 December. This is a great chance to chat with other students in accommodation over some festive activities. Find out more.
- You can celebrate with fellow students by joining us for a traditional Christmas dinner at the Vale on Monday 25 December. We’re talking roast turkey with all the trimmings (veggie alternative available), followed by delicious Christmas pudding – all for just £9.50! Even better, if you’re on Student Living Plus, you can use your credit to pay. Register your interest.
You can also join Friends International Birmingham, a non-profit organisation that will be putting events on for international students staying in Birmingham over Christmas and provides a platform for students to make new friends. Find them on Facebook.
Do you have any more tips or information you think would be useful to know as an international student studying at UoB? Send us your tips by emailing The Student Communications Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You haven't experienced a true British winter until Christmas! Unfortunately, it does mean we enter the coldest time of the year, as the temperature drops significantly. So, it's really important that you dress appropriately and keep yourself warm when you're out and about. Here’s a handy checklist:
- A big, warm coat
- A woolly hat so your ears are covered
- A warm scarf
- Winter boots (with a good grip for those frosty days)
- Thermal socks
- An umbrella
- A hot water bottle
- Long sleeve tops and jumpers
- Warm nightwear, including slippers and a dressing gown
Charity shops are a great place to find these items at low-cost prices, and there are lots of budget-friendly stores around Selly Oak and in Birmingham. For a bonus Christmas treat, always ask if they do a student discount for some extra money off!
Popular British Christmas words
Ever wondered what some English Christmas words or phrases mean? We've got you.
King’s Speech (previously Queen’s speech)
An important part of the Christmas Day celebrations is people gathering to watch the Christmas message on television delivered by the King or Queen. Last year, for the first time, it was delivered by His Majesty the King, who shared his reflections on the meaning of Christmas. You can watch the King's Christmas Broadcast 2022 here.
The broadcast can also be watched on major broadcasting channels such as the BBC, ITV or Sky, and on BBC Radio.
Pantomimes (also known as Panto) are live shows packed with songs, comedy, dancing, live music and audience participation, making it a great way to have some fun with your family and friends over the Christmas period. Some examples include Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk. You can search which Pantos are showing near you at the Birmingham Hippodrome.
There are loads of other types of Christmas theatre that can make for magical viewing such as A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker.
Not to get mixed up with cheese and crackers (biscuits)! Christmas crackers are used as festive table decorations in most households during a Christmas lunch or dinner.
They're made of cardboard paper tubes, wrapped in brightly coloured paper and twisted at both ends. Each person takes the end of the cracker and pulls it. Or if there is a group around the table, everyone crosses their arms to pull all the crackers at once. The surprise is the cracker noise they make and the joy of everyone getting a paper hat, small gift and tell-a-joke inside, which can be great fun to do with your friends and family!
If you're an international student studying at UoB and have any other tips you’d like to share with us, email The Student Communications Team at email@example.com