Holiday Gift and Activity Ideas for Students

Virtual school has proven to be challenging for many students this term given the reduced social interaction and monotony of spending significant time online. In an American study examining the mental health of college students during the pandemic, 89% reported difficulty concentrating, 86% affirmed disruptions to their sleeping patterns and 82% stated they felt an increase in concern for their academic performance. In short, if you are struggling you are not alone! More than ever, we need an extended period of time to take a break from screens and schoolwork. The holidays will be this welcome opportunity, giving everyone the chance to relax, connect with family and friends and catch up on sleep!


The MES has several long-standing traditions centered around the holidays, such as the participation of the Red Suits in Hamilton’s Santa Claus parade, which is unfortunately cancelled this year. There is also Santa Hog, when engineering students come out of hiding on the last Friday of fall classes to bring holiday cheer and joy to stressed students before exams. Two graduating Red Suits dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus and lead holiday caroling as they visit engineering classes. They sing silly songs and provide students with a short break from class, while also raising money for the Women’s Interval House.

Given the restrictions regarding social events this term, the MES is encouraging engineering students to start their own safe holiday traditions with each other. A Secret Santa gift-giving exchange is a fun and easy way to spread holiday cheer within a friend group. You can even mail your gifts if friends are far apart or unable to meet in person. Fun gift themes can be added, like that every item must be purchased second-hand (from thrift stores or estate sales) or home-made. There are also new iterations of Secret Santa, such as the ‘Stealing’ version where names are not drawn. Instead, each person purchases a gift that they feel anyone in the group would appreciate, and participants take turns either opening a new gift or stealing from someone who has already picked a gift until every present has been claimed.

Christmas Cards

A meaningful holiday activity friends can do remotely is send letters or Christmas cards to each other. Take advantage of the downtime this winter break to write to your friends or family members and tell them how much they mean to you. Anyone would be incredibly touched by such a thoughtful (and inexpensive!) gift or gesture.


Friends could also have a virtual gingerbread house competition. Every person can build their own gingerbread structure and share pictures online. Everyone rates each masterpiece based on important engineering principles such as structural integrity, effective use of materials and design creativity. This is a fun and safe way students can spread cheer this holiday season.


Many online resources have thought of innovative and inexpensive gift-giving ideas for students during the pandemic. Any loved one would appreciate a DIY relationship reminder, such as a photo book or piece of art. Houseplants make great presents since they last a long time and can brighten up any room given the sometimes dark and cold feeling of winter. Students can bake a favourite holiday-themed sweet treat recipe for their friends or family, like ginger-molasses cookies or a log cake.

Although this holiday season may be stressful due to the challenges posed by the pandemic, it is extremely important for students to take a break from the rigor of online school to de-stress and spend quality time with family and friends.

Below are some resources including a list of festive, student-friendly gift ideas and holiday baking recipes.

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Written by: Elsa Bassi