An international Christmas

While you may be getting ready to go home for the holidays, some of you may be spending Christmas at University. Don’t worry, lots of our students, particularly overseas, stay on campus during the holidays. Although it’s a quieter time than usual, there’s still plenty to do on campus, in halls or 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.

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 veg. You can have a go at making a traditional Christmas dinner and festive puddings, by following some of these great recipes:

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 Italian student Arianna?

Arianna Petrelli

English and Creative writing student from Italy

“My housemates and I are having an international Christmas dinner before everyone goes back home for the holidays, and I can’t wait to make them try all my family’s traditional dishes (they never had Frittelle or Tiramisu before, so I get the honour to introduce them). It’s definitely more challenging than I thought because finding the right ingredients in the UK can be a struggle sometimes. But who doesn’t like a good challenge”

Student Charity from Uganda suggests pooling funds together with friends and share a festive meal together.

Charity Nankunda

PhD student in Civil Engineering from Uganda

“I have found it very enjoyable to have a meal around Christmas together with my friends from all over the World. Everyone can pool funds to purchase the ingredients together, with a nice playlist in the background as you cook and enjoy your festive meal!”

Talking 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. 

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. Ishita is spending Christmas away from her home in India and plans to volunteer at a dog shelter. 


Ishita Prabhu

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 never would do in her home country of Nigeria! 


Toyosi Alli

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 going home at this time of year, so it’s even more important not to be alone. With many international students staying around student Sharon from Ghana says it’s good to spend time with people. 

inclusivity event2

Sharon Boadu

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.”

You can also join Friends international Birmingham, a non-profit organisation who 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

You can also meet up with fellow students over Christmas by signing up to the 'Creating connections at Christmas' scheme

Winter essentials


The British winter does mean we enter the coolest time of the year and as the temperature drops significantly it’s important that you dress appropriately and keep yourself warm. Here’s a handy checklist: 

  • A big, warm coat
  • A woolly hat so your ears are covered
  • A warm scarf
  • Gloves 
  • 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 or there are lots of budget-friendly stores in Birmingham . Always ask if they do 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. This year, for the first time, it will be delivered by His Majesty the King. The broadcast, which can also be heard on BBC radio too, shares the King’s reflections of what Christmas means to him.   

Pantomimes (Panto)

Nothing gets you in the mood like watching a traditional Christmas show. Pantomimes (also known as Panto) offer hilarious family fun and entertainment and are shown across theatres up and down the country. They are live shows packed with songs, comedy, dancing, live music and audience participation.  Grab your chance to see Dick Whittington at the Birmingham Hippodrome* or DreamGirls at the Alexandra Theatre both venues are conveniently located in the city centre. 
*Win a pair of tickets to see the popular Dick Whittington panto this January. Enter our Brum Bulletin competition before midday (12pm) on Tuesday 3 January 2023 - good luck! Enter now

Christmas crackers 

Not to 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 are 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. 


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