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Vibe check: We asked Gen Z how they’re feeling about the holidays

by Stephanie H.
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    Over the past several months, UNiDAYS has conducted ongoing surveys among Gen Z students to get their insights and track any changes on topics ranging from overall mood, returning to school and the holidays. We found out that the pandemic won’t keep Gen Z from celebrating the holidays this year, it will just reshape how.

    A recently overheard Zoom conversation among Gen Zers discussing things they’re looking forward to: “Finishing college, going to Chick Fil A for lunch, getting a much anticipated package in the mail (it’s a plant), going to concerts again once it’s safe, a Target run once the call ends, and making a cake that requires an entire pound of confectioners sugar.” 

    This conversation took place in early October, so you’d expect at least one Zer would have mentioned the upcoming holidays. But then again, it’s October 2020, not 2019. Expectations and norms are kind of out the window this year. Many colleges have compressed the fall semester, ending classes by Thanksgiving, and for the campuses still holding classes in person, many are sending students home early as COVID-cases continue to climb. 

    Their collective vibe? Conflicted, cautiously hopeful and more than a little melancholic. Here are a few standout Gen Z statistics:  

    • Since summer, students' optimism has waned. In June, 10% of Zers felt sad. This has now more than doubled to 21% in September. Also in June, almost half (48%) of students felt optimistic. Come September, this number dipped to under 39%.
    • Conflicting feelings and preferences about the holidays is prevalent among Gen Z. When asked how they will celebrate the holiday season, 41% of Zers responded they will lay low and stay socially distant. A nearly identical-sized group of 40% is on the fence, saying they will be somewhere in between laying low and going all out. 
    • Gen Z is valuing family and friends this season. Students' top priorities for the holidays are connecting with loved ones (38%) and bringing everyone together somehow (27%). Many are looking forward to the holidays to break up the monotony, and hopefully bring something positive to this year.

    Gen Z shares their insights and plans for the holidays

    Question 1: Do you think it's safe to celebrate the upcoming holidays as usual? 

    "No, but I’m sure a lot of people will. I think after 10 months of this, people are fed up and public health is dropping off any list of concerns. - Sam

    "I don’t think it’s safe to celebrate as usual this year, especially with older relatives. I think it would be a bad idea to have everyone so close together." - Samantha

    "Absolutely not!!!!! We should not be celebrating the holidays as usual at all. That is asking to get COVID." - Michaela

    "No, trying to celebrate normally could pose risks of spreading the virus even more." - Jason

    "No, I think that unless everyone that usually attends holiday celebrations gets tested and quarantines, it’s a terrible idea." - Lilli

    "I don't think it’s safe to celebrate like normal! Usually I spend a lot of time with my grandparents but they are prone to falling ill to normal things like the flu, so this year, my family is especially concerned about protecting them from covid. We will be getting tested and keeping our distance this holiday season." - Emily

    Question 2: Are you going home to your family or staying on campus for the holidays?

    "I will be staying home, but unfortunately I don’t have a choice because I was forced home over a month ago. A lot of schools condensed their semesters, so our holiday break is ~2 months. I doubt there would have been much going on on campus, so I would’ve come home regardless." - Sam

    "I am so scared to go home and celebrate the holidays with my family, but I will for a bit. I know it is important to my parents that I come home, so I’m going to. We don’t typically celebrate the holidays with anyone but our immediate family, so I’m glad for the limited risk." - Michaela

    "I will be home for the holidays, but I am leaving campus before then because of safety concerns." - Jason

    "I will go home for a few days. Half of my family, myself included, have birthdays over winter break so it’s a tradition to celebrate together. I will get tested before going home and once I am back at school to make sure I can work and be with my family." - Emily

    Question 3: What are you doing to adapt to the 'new normal' during the holidays this year?

    "I hate describing it as the ‘new normal,’ because that implies this will still be the scenario next holiday season. I think this year the holidays will be more low-key and family-oriented. It’s also hard to be festive knowing how much bad there is going on in the world right now." - Sam

    "Honestly, I’m trying to adapt by going all out on holiday prep so I have something to look forward to and be excited about." - Haley

    "My family will probably just celebrate without extended family. We've decided it’s not a good idea for everyone to travel or to put our older relatives at higher risk." - Samantha

    "I am going to get tested before I go home. I think before going out of town, you should get tested, especially for the holiday season, to prevent spreading COVID and to protect your loved ones." - Michaela 

    "I’ll be following the protocols that have been suggested this entire time and take those extra precautions to keep everyone safe." - Manny

    "Being cautious and not doing activities I'd normally do that involve being out in public." - Natalia 

    "Our family is cancelling our tradition of renting a beach house every year for Thanksgiving. We’re having a very limited celebration for every holiday until it is safe to return to “the way things were.” - Jason 

    "I am going to focus more on spending time with my immediate family and creating new traditions and incorporating things I’m excited about, such as making new recipes." - Lilli 

    "I’ll be getting tested frequently this holiday season. I will probably keep my distance from some family members, so I’ll be missing out on hugs from my aunts and uncles." - Emily

    Question 4: Overall, how are you feeling about the state of the world and the virus right now?

    "I think it’s pretty sad that people’s responses to the virus (at least in the US) have become more threatening than the virus itself. I’ve always hated politics and politicians (and still do) but this is the first time I’ve noticed it having a direct impact on me. Politics have made this virus such a divisive force in a time where Americans should be more united than ever. A pandemic shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but it has become one." - Sam F

    "The state of the world right now is very concerning and makes me really disappointed in our justice system, leadership, and society as a whole." - Haley 

    "I am feeling discouraged and frustrated about how the pandemic is being handled in the US. I think things might be better if we all were taking things more seriously." - Samantha 

    "I wish everyone would just comply and not be so selfish so we can return to our semi-normal lives." - Manny

    "People need to stop being stupid so it goes away." - Natalia 

    "I am quite concerned. I feel that authority figures are not taking proper precautions to help prevent the spread of the virus. It feels as though lives are expendable to most of these authority figures which makes me feel quite anxious." - Jason

    "I am feeling resentful. I think the way our government is handling the virus is extending the threat of contagion significantly longer than it should have. We could have known about this in January 2020, but instead our country waited until March. Those few months were necessary and we squandered them." - Lilli

    Key insights: 

    • Gen Z are growing impatient and disappointed with irresponsible responses to the pandemic. They want their lives to return back to (some semblance of) normal, and believe that could be possible if "we all were taking things more seriously."
    • Gen Z expect the holidays to look different this year. While many are very hesitant, they're planning smaller and socially distanced gatherings as well as following all suggested protocols and more to keep their friends and family safe.
    • Though some family traditions are being cancelled, students are trying to make the most of the season by creating new traditions, trying new recipes, and going all out with holiday prep to keep the holiday spirit alive. 

    From smaller family get-togethers to cancelling long-standing traditions, Gen Z’s holiday season will absolutely be impacted by the pandemic—and their priority is staying safe. At the same time, Gen Z is ready for a 'new normal', and are looking forward to making the most of the holidays, however unusual they look this year.


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