Calling certain aspects of "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" inconvenient sounds blasphemous, but Santa and his elves don't shower their pointy-toed pep on everyone. Internationals --- students and non-students alike --- often find themselves in Rochester during the winter season, feeling a twinge of homesickness and craving home-cooked holiday celebration. Even for locals of different faiths, the winter holidays can pose annoying questions: "What's open when?" and "Will these crowds ever go away?"
The scene here changes over the winter months, reaching substandard levels of accessibility and convenience on Christmas Day. With most stores, restaurants, and services closed on December 25, it's easy to see how that date can cause peak levels of hair tearing.
"We always take it as a joke," Carolyn Ramzy says of herself and her family members. Ramzy, a senior at the Eastman School of Music, is an Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christian --- she and her family celebrate Christmas on January 7. "We get together and have dinner on the 25th anyway," she says. "Once the 25th is over, we go out and do all of our Christmas shopping because the sales are up."
The Rochester International Council is a 50-year-old nonprofit community group that matches volunteers in Monroe County with international students and adults. The volunteers --- individuals and families willing to share their homes and dinner tables --- act as "Friendship Hosts," most often inviting students over for holiday dinners. A majority of the internationals, according to Cole, are students from India and China studying at Rochester universities. The RIC has its own programs, including picnics, tours of Mt. Hope Cemetery, hiking trips, and square-dancing parties, but it really counts on member-international interaction.
RIC member Brian Fleming is used to the surprises that often arise during the holidays. Fleming hosted one dinner in his Scottsville home that ended, to his surprise, with the group of Chinese students circling to exchange business cards.
According to Fleming, the card exchange was the best part of the evening. One of his American friends, a professor at RIT who'd taught in China for two years, divvied up a stack of business cards only to be told "I have yours already" from a student he'd never met. The student had picked up the card from a Chinese friend who'd met the RIT professor earlier that year. "That's my favorite small-world story," Fleming says.
Fleming has spent more than 20 years helping international students at RIT and UR acclimate to their new living spaces and entertain themselves in Rochester, especially during the holidays. UR closes most of its dorms over a three-week winter break, leaving only two accessible for student use. Most students, Fleming says, are able to stay with friends. Those who aren't make do staying with him for a few days, and renting out temporary rooms at UR.
"Some of them really don't have anything to do," says Jane Cole, administrative assistant for the RIC. "We pretty much rely on our membership to invite students into their homes to find out what the holidays are about and what the most common traditions are."
"What's very funny is how much the students love green bean casserole," Cole says. "And they love to help decorate a Christmas tree."
The Rochester International Council welcomes new members --- locals and internationals. You can learn more about RIC by visiting rifc.org, or by calling 275-8779.
There's no place like home, and Rochester may not cater to your celebratory preferences, but the city certainly won't be a ghost town on December 25. Seneca Park Zoo (2222 St. Paul Street, 336-7200), for instance, will be open on Christmas, as it is nearly every other day of the year. If that doesn't sound appealing, you can see a movie --- movie theaters will be open. Or, rent a flick from a local Blockbuster or Hollywood Video (also open).
If you have good balance, you can ice skate at either the Genesee Valley Park or Manhattan Square Park skating rinks on Christmas Eve (428-6755). Sledding is an activity not dictated by holidays --- only by how much snow is on the ground. Careening down a hill is a seasonal tradition that can be even better enjoyed on a major holiday, when the crowds of flailing children will most likely be at a low. (Call 256-4950 for info on county parks, some of which have great sledding hills.)
Wegmans won't be open --- Christmas is the only day of the year to see the supermarket giant close its doors --- but smaller stores like Eckerd Drugs and gas station mini-marts will be. If you're looking for entertainment in the evening, head to the Bug Jar's special holiday concert (219 Monroe Avenue, 454-2966) that night to entertain you while most other clubs and restaurants close early or don't open at all.