“It would be kinda nice if people almost started to have their doubts about going home for the holidays, thinking they might prefer to stay here because there's so much fun stuff going on,” said organizer Lara Hofstra in mid-December, in the run-up to the event. From past experience she knows how it feels to be alone at Christmas, and it was this that prompted her in 2018 to stage the more modest first edition of the Winter Special.
Full of enthusiasm, this past Christmas vacation she scaled up the program to extra large - aided by various other parties on campus, a group of interns and many volunteers. And it proved a great success. “Just fun, small and intimate” was what Hofstra hoped for ahead of time, but ‘small’ it was not: about sixty people turned up for each of the group lessons, and another twenty to thirty sports lovers came to play badminton, soccer or basketball. Other activities too, like the pub quiz and salsa evening, drew good crowds and the final count for those attending the Syrian dinner buffet on the opening evening was as high as sixty.
Without turning a hair, the Syrian refugee Mo of Mo’s Kitchen scaled up operations and bought in plentiful supplies for the buffet. “The leftover food went into the next day's potluck dinner. Mo was our in-house chef and he stayed with us for three days, simply fantastic.”
It was mainly internationals who found their way to Winter Special XL, many of whom came alone, says Hofstra. “And that was my hope, that people who didn't know each other would come here and meet, to dance together, play sport or join in some kind of game.”
Next up for the event's organizer is a visit to the campus fire service to iron out a - minor - matter. They could see the value of all the socializing that went on, she says, but they don't allow an open fire (like a fire basket) on campus grounds. Ideally, Hofstra would like to see a fire pit with a concrete surround become a permanent fixture on the field between Aurora and Luna. Here, a couple of evenings a week the fire service could light a fire, giving people the chance come together in a fun and friendly setting. “It would be safe, and a great way for them to get to know the community better.”
The Winter Special XL will certainly return - and be even bigger -, says Hofstra; and she is already busy working up a summer edition. “In the summer we already have some forty group lessons, the swimming pool and the gym are open, and various associations are active. Suppose we hold a beach volleyball tournament every Sunday, perhaps Hubble could provide a barbecue. Together we are going to look at these options, and we're particularly keen to give more students the chance to organize things.”
Reporter Arantja Rosalina went along to soak up the atmosphere for Cursor. Watch her video report on Winter Special XL below.