Perhaps no time of the year is quite so distinctive as Christmastime. From shopping malls to neighborhoods, decorations pop up everywhere as communities embrace this special holiday. An entire genre of music becomes relevant once again, and children’s faces take on a rosy glow.
My favorite Christmas movie is “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a Frank Capra film from 1946. It follows the journey of George Bailey, a well-meaning community leader who finds himself down on his luck. As he is about to attempt suicide, an angel appears and shows him what the world would be like had he never been born.
I don’t want to spoil too much for those who haven’t seen it, but the movie’s message of community and helping others epitomizes the best of Christmas. When I think of Christmas, I think of the scene at the end where everyone gathers in support of Mr. Bailey. The entire town joins together in song and pitches in some money to save him from a debtor’s prison. It is a very heartwarming moment.
However, this year’s Christmas reminds me of a very different scene in the movie: the one where the bartender yells at the clearly inebriated protagonist, “Mr. Bailey, why do you drink so much?” For Yale students, of course, the answer is the ridiculous academic calendar! It forces many students to remain on campus until Dec. 23 and, especially for international students, threatens their ability to celebrate Christmas at all.
The canary in the coal mine that finals would threaten Christmas came last year when the provisional academic calendar had exams running until Dec. 23 — keeping some students on campus until Christmas Eve. That schedule met vehement student opposition, culminating in a YCC proposal to start and end classes one week earlier. The proposal received more support than any in YCC history, with ninety-two percent of students in favor of starting school earlier. If student opinion at the time was a Christmas tree, preserving the status quo would have been the equivalent of dousing it in gasoline and lighting it on fire. Moving classes up one week would have started classes only one calendar day earlier than they started the previous year. Alternatively, the former proposal would have dragged exams on six days longer. Fortunately, some measure of relief was provided when the administration agreed to shorten reading period by a day to send the last students home on Dec. 23. But the situation is still very regrettable.
I know of many students, including myself, who picked their schedule based on the date of a class’s final. However, some students did not have that luxury; for example, foreign languages, which all students are required to take at some point, are holding their exams on the 22nd. Further, I know of some courses, such as “Conservation Biology,” that moved their final exam to the last day of classes and out of the finals period so that students would not be stuck on campus for so long. By interfering with Christmas, a holiday cherished by thousands of Yale students and billions of people worldwide, the current schedule undermines Yale’s academic mission. People aren’t picking courses based on their passions; they are picking them based on Christmas.
YCC’s fight last year was noble. But it is time now to ensure that future students do not face the same bad choices, and put in place a framework that ensures for a full reading period and also a joyous Christmas.
At present, the start of the academic term is based on Labor Day. Classes begin the Wednesday before, and all other key dates are arranged accordingly. Although for most years this framework makes sense, when Labor Day pushes the end of exams to Dec. 22, the calendar should be adjusted. After all, it does not make any sense to prioritize a Monday off from work over Christmas. For those years in which a conflict arises, classes should start one week earlier. Under this model, the earliest that classes would ever begin would be Aug. 18, only two days earlier than two years ago.
Not even a militant atheist wants to pay twice as much to get home and fight the holiday travel. The current framework for setting the calendar does not take into account the cultural and economic priorities of students. Hopefully, the calendar can be remedied in the long term. For future Christmases, instead of studying for exams, we can enjoy the company of family in our homes. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful life?
Michael Herbert is a senior in Saybrook College. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at email@example.com .